NETFLIX (2018)

 

Director: Susanne Bier

 

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich

Handy things to ensure the birdies get fed all year round.

 

By the sounds of it, the novel Bird Box is supposedly bloody good and pretty chilling too – so, firstly, I better read it and, secondly, it gives Netflix’s Bird Box a very solid base to lift off from. Add in a ridiculously decorated director in Susanne Bier and an excellent cast including Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald, and Jacki Weaver and this horror/thriller may actually just work.

The movie follows Malorie (Bullock) and two young children who, due to an unknown apocalyptic event, must traverse a forest and river to reach an - also unknown – destination. The problem is...they all live their lives blindfolded due to an entity that causes those who see it to take their own lives. Unfair advantage if you ask me.

 

Whilst watching Bird Box, the first thing that really struck me were the similarities to The Mist – the unknown entity that lurks outside etc., plus also the general atmosphere at times. This movie utilises flashbacks majorly into the main narrative, so in jumping backward and forwards, it’s far different in that sense. In those flashbacks, we learn more about (then pregnant) Malorie and the ‘origins’ of the unseen affliction that is causing mankind to exterminate itself. When she finds the safety of an inviting household, she is brought together with a diverse, strange bunch of fellow survivors. The ‘present day’ scenes (set five years after the flashbacks) are far more muted in their appearance and tone as Malorie and the two children fumble and grope their way to (hopefully) survival. Sandra Bullock throws herself into the role with typical gusto and really sells the range of emotions that Malorie faces all throughout the movie. For the supporting cast, Macdonald and Rhodes are solid and Malkovich is fiendishly stand-offish. Sadly, the rest are underutilised and/or just undercooked.

 

The effective and chilling introduction sets us up for a thrilling ride which is never fully realised. Those flashback segments provide the better moments of Bird Box – including a tense blind, GPS-navigated trip to the local supermarket – though the Bullock-led portions are intriguing (a creepy moment including one child leaving the boat is evidence of that), the key weapon of Bird Box is never fully utilised – the blindfolds and lack of sight. Bier had the chance to really ramp up the tension and horror/thriller aspects but more often than not, the potential was never fully realised. Part of this is due to the not-entirely-strong writing (the kid's identities are telegraphed almost immediately once the band gets together), but it does feel like a frustrating missed opportunity. I have to say, though, the ‘evil’ within the movie is well-handled and contained. Everest DoP Salvatore Totino captures a chilling visual during the lonelier moments with Bullock and it’s a very decent looking flick – one that is receiving a limited theatrical release alongside its streaming life.

 

Comparisons have, and will be, made to A Quiet Place but I’m not having it. Essentially they are two different movies in most aspects, so leave those expectations at the door. There’s enough here to maintain intrigue throughout, but the nagging feeling that a killer instinct, a real horror/thriller cutting edge was missing hung over the movie. Bird Box succeeds in being a solid thriller, but, really (and frustratingly) could have been much more.

December 22nd 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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