Don’t Look Now: A Review Of Netflix Orginal Film 'Bird Box'
Netflix’s Bird Box is one of those near-future post-apocalyptic films whose source material is a best selling novel by Josh Malerman. It was his first novel back in 2014; and the film adaptation is directed by Susanne Bier, known in turn for her much-praised work on The Night Manager TV miniseries, which starred Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. In this Netflix film, she has Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich leading the cast, alongside such stellar performers as Trevante Rhodes and Tom Hollander.
The premise is quite simple; in this near-future world some invisible being is causing people to suddenly ‘see’ something, triggering psychotic reactions and turning people suicidal. Eventually we discover that there are others who welcome this sight and survive as vassals or tools of these beings. So the premise calls for negotiating the world at large and surviving without the benefit of sight.
On paper, it looks quite promising, assemble a cast of seasoned and highly regarded performers, and offer a sci-fi thriller that’s based on a best-selling novel. Like I said, promising except for two important details.
One, A Quiet Place was released earlier in the year, and while that one used ‘sound’ as the trigger - when the beings heard you, you became prey; the film was very successful and there will be some quarters shouting copycat. To make matters worse, A Quiet Place was masterfully done, concentrating on a single nuclear family. Bird Box attempts to paint a wider canvas, without getting us really invested in the other characters.
Two, somebody forgot to include plausibility in the screenplay. We can appreciate the fraught danger that emanates from the strong premise; but time and time again, in the course of the film, we’re asked to suspend disbelief and accept glaring improbabilities so the story can proceed. As Malorie, Sandra Bullock takes two five year old children, all three of them blindfolded, into a forest they’ve never been in, and they never bump into a tree? And that they stumble and trip on tree roots is supposed to be enough for us to accept what’s transpiring?
The much stronger narrative of the film is when Malorie is trapped with a bunch of characters in a single home and they’re all forced to cope with what’s happening outside. There, the acting chops of the cast comes through in providing the needed tension and fear, with each having his or her own way of coping with the crisis. Its the acting which keeps us riveted to the screen; only to be disappointed at the film’s end, frustrated by what could have been.
This coming weekend, if you're stuck at home, watching Bird Box may be a viable option. But there are much stronger Netflix Original Films to catch-up on: Cuaron’s Roma, the Coen Brother’s Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mudbound, or even my all-time Netflix Original favorite from last year, Okja. If you haven’t seen any of those, they’re a far better place to start in terms of made for Netflix films.
Photos from netflix.com/birdbox