Courtesy of Netflix
Remember the scene from “A Quiet Place” - the film where one peep would set off a blaze of monsters to feast on your bones - in which Emily Blunt’s character goes into labor, and has to deliver a baby in the worst circumstances imaginable? That scene was a stunner, and still haunts me to this day. While that comparison pales in light of Netflix’s no-so inexpensive thriller “Bird Box” - which tackles similar themes of parenting and monsters - it’s hard not to look at the two side by side. (Yes, I know “Box” was a book first, that still doesn’t negate the execution in each filmmakers approach).
In the world of “Bird Box” - like “A Quiet Place” - one of our senses becomes the latest horror tactic to tiptoe around: In this case, it’s sight. In a harrowing opening sequence, Sandra Bullock’s authoritative Malorie - in a moment that probably exists so the audience doesn’t feel lost - is basically telling her kids (who she doesn’t even name, only referring to them as Boy and Girl) that if they remove there blindfolds, they die.
These unseen creatures that lurk in the wilderness manage to use sight against its victims, conjuring its powers to manifest your biggest fears and in doing so, makes you commit suicide. It’s an epidemic that’s been going on for years, and director Susanne Bier splices two narrative time frames together throughout the picture. In one life, Malorie is a single mom who gets caught up in the horrors of the unexplained phenomenon, and eventually shacks up with a group of survivors (among them “Moonlight’s” Trevante Rhodes, “Get Out’s” Lil Rel Howery, Machine Gun Kelly, and John Malkovich). In the other life, Malorie is staging a daring river raft excursion, with the two young ones, following breadcrumbs to a supposed sanctuary deep in the woods.
For as effective as Bullock’s portrayal comes across, Bier leaves too much on the table in terms of mythology, and aside from brief drawings and shadows in the corridors, the monsters remain unseen (a tactic that works, until it doesn’t). The title is clever in that birds can hear when the monsters are approaching, except you’ll forget they exist. But I guess the biggest issue I have with “Box” is that it meanders and never finds the correct rhythm. Running two hours, “Box” introduces several characters left and right - covering a wide array of backgrounds - and can’t figure out their purpose other than to kill themselves creatively (which, ironically, looked better in M Night Shyamalan's far worse “The Happening” - but at least you had a connection with the characters).
By the time we reach the decent climax, “Bird Box” has already tested your patience. I didn’t agree with the framing device that cuts back and forth between the present and five years earlier (if Bier had kept things chronological, it could’ve been a game changer). Which is a disappointment, because the effort behind “Bird Box” was to make something better than your standard horror movie, but the result is dull and doesn’t come across as serious or engaging as it wants. It just touches the surface of the ideals it wants to accomplish (it's also a monster movie, without the monster). How's the saying go? What you see is what you get.