A woman and a pair of children are blindfolded and make their way through a post-apocalyptic setting along a river.
ActorsStarring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, LilRel Howery, John Malkovich, Rosa Salazar, Jacki Weaver, Happy Anderson, Amy Gumenick, Danielle Macdonald, Taylor Handley, BD Wong, Parminder Nagra, Machine Gun Kelly
The concept of so-called ‘twin movies’ is well known: two movies released pretty closely together that have a similar plot or concept at its core. That doesn’t necessarily mean one is a copy or rip-off of the other, but more a case of one studio greenlighting a plot or concept on the basis that they believe there is an audience for it, incentivising competing studios to also consider the market ready for similar stories or concepts. Examples include: Armageddon & Deep Impact, The Prestige & The Illusionist, Volcano & Dante’s Peak, Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down, Friends With Benefits & No Strings Attached, The Cave & The Descent, Anthropoid & The Man with the Iron Heart, Dunkirk & Darkest Hour, and so on and so forth. In this sense, Bird Box could be matched to the recent A Quiet Place. Both set in a dystopian world, A Quiet Place’s survival rule was ‘Be Quiet’, in Bird Box it is ‘Don’t Look’. But the approach to the stories are different enough to not feel the need to constantly compare them while watching A Bird Box.
The movie jumps between two timelines – we start with Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and two kids travelling blindfolded in a boat down a river, where to we do not know, but right from the opening scene learn that they must not look or they will die. The second timeline is about 5 years earlier where we meet a then heavily pregnant Malorie and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson), as they see news reports about some unexplained phenomenon in Europe and Russia causing mass suicides.
When they get to the hospital for a baby scan, it turns out ‘it’ is now also ‘here’ in the US, and before long their entire environment seems to be affected and the suicides are rampant around them. Malorie just makes it into a nearby house with a group of strangers, including amongst others John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, and an also pregnant Danielle Macdonald, as they try to hide from whatever ‘it’ is. As the story jumps back and forth between the group in the house, and Malorie alone with two kids a few years later, it is clear that most of the group aren’t destined to survive. Will Malorie and the kids make it to safety somehow?
As with any movie like this we have to buy into the premise: why would looking at something make you suicidal, and if ‘all’ you need to do to avoid it is ‘not look’ then why would you be so terrified of going outside as long as you can cover your eyes properly? To deal with this ‘problem’, it turns out some victims don’t become suicidal but they become ‘enlightened’ and take it as their mission to make others ‘see the light’ as well by forcing them to look; so now we have a reason not to trust anyone anymore.
The fact that there are quite a few characters in the movie early on, combined with the jumping between the timelines, results in the story not being as taut as it could have been; while both timelines are supposed to be suspenseful, the jumping back and forth doesn’t help at all in building tension. Also, the fact that ‘it’ cannot come inside, and that even hiding outside under a just a blanket seems to mean one is safe, means the tension isn’t constant.
The acting of the ensemble cast holed up in the house is good, and there is a reasonable story arc of Malorie fighting maternal responsibilities and instincts, so sitting through the movie giving it the benefit of the doubt, the ‘twist’ ending is unfortunately more of a grand fizzle rather than a clarifying or satisfying conclusion and lets the entire experience down.