Welcome to the apocalypse! Earlier this year, we experienced a post-apocalyptic vision of the world where the slightest sound could get you killed in A Quiet Place. Now Susanne Bier helms Bird Box, based on the Josh Malerman novel, in which mysterious monsters can drive you insane to the point of suicide and kill you if you look at them.
And that’s where the comparisons between the two films end. Sacrificing one of our senses that we take for granted in order to survive.
Bier brings Malerman’s world to life with Sandra Bullock as Malorie and thrusts us right into her darkest fear as she tells her two young children, “If you look, you will die.” The children understand and we understand. This is going to be about their survival. You keep those blindfolds on and you do not look.
Through slick editing courtesy of Ben Lester, we cut between the present where Malorie has survived the beast that has pretty much wiped out most of humanity, and five years earlier when the attack first started and she was a pregnant mother-to-be.
With blindfolds, Malorie and her children, Boy and Girl, have to make it down river to safety. It’s not smooth sailing. The tension levels spike into the red zone.
Of course, Sandra Bullock is brilliant in Bird Box, tapping into Malorie, commanding the narrative from that first scene. Bullock’s Malorie is learning to cope with her pregnancy when the apocalypse first begins and she’s anything but a jubilant, glowing mother-to-be. It’s the last thing she wants and she’s quite cold about becoming a mother. But then, as Malorie leaves her check-up, a woman starts banging her head against the window and kills herself. Similar scenes of death spread quickly. Mysteriously. The mass suicides that have been happening in Europe and Russia have hit America and mankind seems to be doomed.
As we cut between present and past, Malorie’s maternal instincts are pushed far beyond kissing “boy” and “girl” goodnight, reading them bedtime stories, or even cuddling up to them. Although she seems detached from the usual joys of motherhood, all her energy sis devoted to making sure they survive.
At one point on the river, she is put in a Sophie’s Choice position of choosing between boy and girl. They have to make it down the wild river and it requires removing a blindfold to navigate, but she takes the risk herself.
Malorie’s maternal instincts here are about surviving, protecting the children from the danger, and the stress imposed by the new world order.It’s simply a thrilling modern look at the conflicts of parenthood as she explains herself that every decision she makes, she has made for her kids. We realize that just because Malorie is not cooing over the children, that doesn’t make her a cold-hearted, uncaring, unloving mother. Bullock’s superb grasp of conflicting emotions convey the wide range of these contradictions. We feel her fear because Bier creates a chain of setups so we can repeatedly see her excel.
Malorie doesn’t like to trust anyone, yet suddenly she’s in a house putting her faith in complete strangers because trust is integral to her survival. B.D. Wong, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Danielle Macdonald, and Rosa Salazar round out the supporting cast. Hiding out in a home where they’ve taken shelter, they must all learn how to to band together to outsmart the unseen creatures.
Anxiety are through the roof, where even a simple trip to the supermarket for essentials will accelerate your heartbeat. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography and score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross contribute to the tension.
Bird Box’s influences from the jittery genre can be felt throughout, but it offers its own special brand of humanistic, heart-racing excitement. Dare to take off your blindfold and watch Bird Box. The thrill and Bullock’s performance are well worth the ride.
Bird Box streams on Netflix from December 21.