Bird Box - Review

A middle-of-the-road thriller that will become more famous for its memes.

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Netflix’s latest cult hit Bird Box is the kind of film M. Night Shyamalan would have made after The Happening. It’s neither the total disaster some are claiming, nor the thrilling gem Netflix wishes it to be, but it is a completely passable Sandra Bullock led thriller. Not exciting enough? Well, neither is the film.

Two things keep viewers in for Bird Box’s absurd two hour runtime: Sandra Bullock, and atmosphere. Who knows how Bullock went from Ocean’s 8 to a film like this, but her presence elevates the film to a surprising degree. Her ability to break patience and gain an emotional edge, last seen in the outstanding Gravity, is in rare form here. She’s the star, and (nearly) every moment she spends on screen is exciting. Standout Get Out actor Lil Rel Howery and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes are given crucial roles, but neither seem to understand the characters until their final moments. Howery’s a coward destined for life changing sacrifices, and essentially a throw-away character. That hurts. Rhodes is the main love interest, and Sandra Bullock’s scene partner for a large part of the film, but the way the script teases him is criminal. Rhodes’ deep, forlorn expression and large frame beg for a campy action hero with a tinge of heart, and we get it! But only after he’s doomed himself by taking off his blindfold in defense of Bullock’s character and promptly killed. Prior to the big moment, he’s incapacitated or bored. But what if I told you that instead of utilizing Rhodes, Howery, and John Malkovich (!), Bird Box gave Machine Gun Kelly a better role?

The second crucial string that holds Bird Box together is its atmosphere. Cutting between two equally tense stories on opposite ends of the present, there is a lot of tension to be mined. Scenes on the river are the most captivating, easily for Sandra Bullock’s tremendous talents, as well as some genuinely beautiful cinematography courtesy of Salvatore Totino. However, most of the story exists at the epicenter of the disaster, a barricaded house filled with a crazy cast of characters. It’s one of the oldest tactics in the book, to set a special-effects heavy story in the middle of a darkened suburban home, all while things get conveniently worse outside. If you’ve seen the mock ups for the monsters (which are not shown in the film), you might think this was a good call, but there are too many moments of “What was that noise upstairs?” and “Oh no, the house is turned against us!” to warrant such lazy storytelling, without meaningful payoff.

Cheesy writing is rarely the sole reason a film fails, bit Bird Box begs to differ. Sarah Paulson receives the worst of it, with a memorable character who really, really likes horses. Lots and lots of unnecessary horse dialogue that goes nowhere, especially after her character exits the story in the first act. When watching Bird Box, it’s easy to ask yourself what the film is trying to accomplish. Is it trying to be the next A Quiet Place, or just C-level Shyamalan? Bird Box splits the difference, and meanders into total imitation by the final frame.