‘Bird Box’: Riveting Yet Ultimately Unsatisfying

Bird Box, directed by Susanne Bier, has been taking the internet by storm since its release on Netflix, with loads of memes already making the rounds depicting a blindfolded Sandra Bullock. While the memes may be comical, the premise of the film certainly is not, as people throughout the film are forced to kill themselves due to looking at this evil invisible “force.” It is unclear what this force actually is, and we never get a real answer either, which left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth by the film’s conclusion. Though I found the film’s narrative a bit incomplete and too predictable at times, I thought it had lots to like and was extremely captivating from beginning to end.

The biggest positives I took away from this film were the leading acting performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Sandra Bullock has been one of the best actresses in Hollywood for a long time now, with award-winning performances in fantastic films like Crash, The Blind Side, and Gravity. In Bird Box, Bullock performed no differently, portraying her character Malorie Hayes as a strong leader determined to survive and get her children to safety, highly reminiscent of her role in Gravity. I was also very pleased with Trevante Rhodes’ performance as Tom, and I’m happy to see him land another big role after his breakthrough performance as Chiron in the Golden Globe and Academy Award winning film Moonlight. I especially thought he was at his best during scenes with Bullock, like when he talks with her about his pregnant sister in the grocery store, and when he and Bullock are alone together in the house as the lone survivors. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when he is talking to Boy and Girl about climbing the tree and seeing all the kids playing from the very top. Overall, I found his performance very genuine and was highly convinced of his love for Bullock’s character, even if his decision to help her in the first place is a bit unclear. I also really enjoyed John Malkovich’s performance as Douglas and thought he played the role of “selfish asshole” extremely well, while also showing a human side to his character when having a drink with Malorie. I also found it a bit humorous that he ended up being right about Gary which is another aspect of the film that I really liked.

I thought the twist near the tail-end of the film with Gary being one of the people who was infected by the supernatural force was very well done. I really liked how innocent and “normal” he was depicted when he was first let into the house, especially when he’s listening to the music with the other people in the kitchen. However, once he’s left by himself, you really get to see just how creepy and possessed he is as he reveals these dark drawings presumably of the supernatural force. I thought it was especially creepy when he put the birds in the fridge. Overall I really liked this twist in the film and thought it was a creative way on the part of the writers to bring chaos to an otherwise safe household.

Another aspect of the film that I really liked that many strict right-wing conservatives may not have liked was the progressiveness of the film. It is a widely-known stereotype that black men are often the first people killed in horror films, and it was pleasing to see the two black characters Tom and Lil Rel Howery’s Charlie get fairly noble deaths. Though I would’ve liked to see more of Lil Rel Howery in the film after his awesome comedic performance in Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning horror/thriller Get Out, I was at least satisfied to see he went out like a hero, saving the others in the grocery store when his former co-worker got infected. While it can be inferred that his co-worker killed him judging by the blood that appears underneath the door, it was also respectable that he wasn’t shown brutally murdered on-screen. The same can be said for Tom, who not only saves Malorie and the kids by killing the people infected, but also has the inner-strength to kill the last infected person even after he himself gets infected before offing himself with his own gun. This was probably the noblest way for him to die especially after getting infected, so I was pretty pleased by how the writers formulated his death. Perhaps the most progressive aspect of the film that is very explicitly shown is the interracial coupling of Malorie and Tom during the latter half of the film. This is emphasized by a bird’s eye view shot of the two lying in bed together. While many may have found the progressiveness of the film too “in-your-face,” I certainly didn’t have any problems with it, and don’t think interracial couplings are seen enough on-screen.

In terms of my criticisms for this film, most of them lie in the narrative structure. I really wasn’t a fan of the constant time-jumping, with the film beginning five years into the future with Malorie trying to successfully canoe down a river for over two days with Boy and Girl, and then cutting back to five years prior when the supernatural force began infecting people. I think that the narrative structure would’ve been much smoother had the story been displayed in chronological order rather than constantly jumping back and forth between the beginning and end. I really didn’t think the time-jump enhanced anything and more so just made the plot much more predictable than it already was. For example, due to the time-jump, we pretty much know that every character in the house is going to die outside of Malorie and the babies. The film could’ve had much more mystery as to who dies and who survives if the story was simply in chronological order.

I also thought that was writing was a tad bit inconsistent at times. I really liked the back and forth conversing from Malorie and her sister Jessica (played by Sarah Paulson), and thought the dialogue sounded very authentic, yet near the end of the film when Malorie is calling out to Girl in the woods, I thought that her dialogue sounded extremely cheesy and unnecessary. I’ll add that considering how great of an actress Paulson is, I would’ve liked to see her get a bit more screen time. And in regards to her death, I was surprised by the fact that there was pretty much zero reaction from Malorie when Jessica gets hit by the truck. I can understand that she may have just been in shock, and we later see her break down a bit in front of Tom, yet I would’ve expected a bit more of a reaction, as it appeared to me as if she saw nothing happen. The same could be said for Douglas whose wife is kills herself trying to save Malorie. While he opens up about her a little with Malorie in the kitchen, we never see him really show any emotion towards her death other than shock. I also really wasn’t a fan of the way Rosa Salazar’s character Lucy was written. Everything about her character seems to contradict itself. When Machine Gun Kelly’s character Felix is first eyeing her in the kitchen, she tells him “not a chance,” and then later has sex with him. She’s also supposed to be a cop, though it wouldn’t seem that way since she has the biggest reactions of terror towards Greg and Charlie’s deaths. Moreover, I thought her and Felix’s eventual desertion of the rest of the group by taking the car was very predictable considering the seemed to be the most irresponsible people in the group. This same predictability can be said for Douglas and his selfish desire to stay in the grocery store. On the topic of predictability, it was also pretty predictable that Tom would be the last survivor with Malorie considering how much time he spends with her. When there was that hint of suspense as to who got killed when gunshots were fired between Tom and Gary, there was almost no doubt in my mind that it would be Tom who would come out the victor.

My last big criticism of the film is the fact that we never actually see this evil supernatural force that infects everybody. The only point in the film where we are given visuals of the force is from Gary’s drawings which are very abstract and ambiguous. Other than that, there are a few times when we see the leaves rustle up into the air when this force around. While I wouldn’t view this as a big negative, what makes matters worse is the fact that we really don’t learn anything about this force’s origins. Why did it appear all of a sudden? Why does it make people kill themselves? Why do only some people kill themselves when they see it while others simply force others to look at it? I think it would’ve been interesting to get a point of view shot of one of the victims seeing it through their own eyes before killing themselves. We see Douglas’ wife cry out “mom” when she is infected, but it’d be interesting if we could get a shot of her actually seeing her mother inside of the car that ends up burning her to death.

All in all, while this film was far from perfect, it was still a solid post-apocalyptic horror/thriller with some great intentions and even better acting performances. The best thing this film did was it kept me on the edge of my seat, which is what you hope to get out of a horror/thriller. I’ll add that I really liked how the camera never remained on Malorie while she was inside the house and instead gave us the perspectives of all the different characters the house contained. I also liked the attention that was put on the blind near the end and how in this case, being blind allowed you to survive, rather than disabling you. This certainly brings to question what life would be like if everybody were blind. I just wish that the writing and characterizations could’ve been more consistent and less predictable.

Final Rating: 7/10