When the film opens, we see a forest with a river running through the middle of it. We hear a man talking over some sort of two-way radio. He describes that there is a safe place, a cabin that is isolated. He asks a series of questions about the person on the other line (who we do not hear). We learn that whoever he is talking to have kids and that the man says he doubts the people he is talking to can make it with kids.
As we fly low across the river’s surface, we hear a woman speaking. We cut to a close-up of a woman, Malorie (Sandra Bullock), who is laying down the laws of behavior. She explains that they are about to go on an arduous trip down the river and that they must stay alert and be quiet. The camera slowly pulls back as Malorie explains that under no circumstances are their blindfolds to be taken off. We see that she is talking to two children, both around five or six, a girl and a boy. As the kids listen intently, we realize that the man on the two-way radio was talking to Malorie. Malorie tells the kids that if they take off their blindfolds, they will die.
The kids pack their backpacks, Malorie carefully places three parakeets into a bird box. Malorie gathers the kids as we see them head outside with blindfolds on. Malorie searches and finds a line that she grabs and follows down a path with the kids in tow. They head down some stairs toward the river as Malorie counts the stairs. We see Malorie’s point of view with the blindfold on; she can only see if it is dark or light out, nothing else. Malorie finds a small rowboat that was hidden by camouflage. Malorie pushes the boat towards the river, places the kids in the boat, and we next see the three of them on the boat, with Malorie rowing them down the river, blindfolds on.
We cut to five years earlier. We see Malorie listening to music as she is working on a large painting. As Malorie concentrates on her art, we see her sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson) walk into the studio with groceries and turns off the music. As they discuss Malorie’s lack of groceries and the fact that she rarely leaves the house, we see that Malorie is pregnant. Jessica informs Malorie that there is something big going on in Europe. Malorie turns on the news, and we see that people are fleeing in the streets as the reporter talks about mass suicides. The news reports tell of people violently committing suicide and causing chaos. Malorie mutes the TV and remarks that it is over in Europe. As she turns her back to the TV, we see a map of Russia and Alaska, and an arrow shows that whatever this is, it has now moved to Alaska. In just a few hours Malorie’s world is going to change for the worse, and soon we will learn why Malorie is so desperate to take her kids on a dangerous rafting ride down a river while blindfolded.
This is how ‘Bird Box’ starts, a taught physiological thriller on Netflix, that doesn’t quite fulfill its potential, trying too hard to make commentary on the state of human relations in today’s society. The film moves back in forth in two-time lines; Malorie trying to survive the first few weeks of the outbreak, which we never learn what causes it, and five years later as she desperately paddles her children down the river to what she hopes is safety. In the hours after the outbreak hits Malorie’s city, she is able to find a house filled with a rag-tag bunch of survivors, led by a cantankerous homeowner, Douglas (John Malkovich), who sees his wife commit suicide right before his eyes. This going back and forth in the timelines stops any momentum that the film has built. The group in the house develops two leaders, Douglas who is about self-preservation, doing everything he can to survive, even if it means he hurts the group. Malorie, who we learn grew up with a strict father on a horse farm, is about everyone looking out for each other. Malorie believes that the only way that they will survive is if they cooperate and work for a common goal. Too many post-apocalyptic films feel the need to give us the origin story, I would have been much happier if the film had just stayed in the five years later time-period, giving us insight into Malorie and the kids day to day existence.
Sandra Bullock does give a powerful, tour de force performance of a woman determined to do anything to have her children survive, even if it means sacrificing herself. It’s a moving role, and she does make us believe that she is badass enough to succeed. Bullock has that ability to make us care and root for her characters, even when, like Malorie, are a little rough around the edges, not being very social and wondering whether she will even care for her unborn. The kids are ok, with Vivian Lyra Blair as Girl and Julian Edwards as Boy, but they aren’t asked to do much more than looking small and scared. Of course, John Malkovich, as the crusty Douglas, is perfect in the role, dominating scenes he is in with only Bullock holding her own with him. Lil Rel Howerey, as a grocery store clerk who has a theory on why the attacks are happening, is slowly creating of a repertoire of quirky and funny characters that lighten the load in serious and scary films.
‘Bird Box’ has plenty of scares, mostly psychological and few big action sequences that are quite terrifying, but it never quite delivers the film that you want. It’s too bad that the movie, by continually switching timelines, wastes a compelling and forceful performance by Sandra Bullock. ‘Bird Box’ is not a dull film, in fact, you will enjoy it for what it is, the movie just could have been so much more.
Bird Box Review
My Rating: Bargain Matinee
Mike’s Rating System From Best to Worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again