REVIEW / SCIENCE-FICTION THRILLER
BIRD BOX (R21)
124 minutes/Netflix/ 2 stars
The story: Malorie (Sandra Bullock) warns two children that they are about to take a raft down a hazardous river and that no matter what happens, they must never remove their blindfolds or something will cause them to die. In a flashback, she is shown to be heavily pregnant. She and sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) are at the hospital for a check-up when chaos breaks out. It seems that America, too, has been afflicted by the spate of mass suicides happening in other countries. Based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name.
This post-apocalyptic thriller with supernatural overtones has a clever premise – as in the legend of Medusa, death visits anyone who looks upon the source of evil.
But the potential is squandered.
Bullock’s Malorie is the protagonist in this global pandemic story, which the film makes clear by including her in every scene.
The collapse of civilisation seen through her eyes and supporting characters tends to deliver the story exposition around her in clunky, obvious ways.
Unfortunately, she offers the blandest point of view in recent movie memory.
It is uncertain if something was lost in translating her character from the novel or if both the book and film suffer from underwriting.
Malorie does indeed grow as a character, from a pregnant single mother who is protected from harm by a number of supporting characters, to being a protector of two children, when the film flashes forward to the present day.
While she is much less passive by the end than she is at the beginning, her internal life remains blank.
Dull Narrator Syndrome is not the only problem here.
This is a story that hovers somewhere between the Stephen King-style ensemble horror of The Mist (2007) and the high-concept action thrills of this year’s A Quiet Place, with bits of the art-house murky grimness of The Road (2009) thrown in, but never quite lands in a comfortable spot of its own.
Danish director Susanne Bier had a critical hit on television with the period spy thriller The Night Manager (2016) and the Oscar-winning drama In A Better World (2010), but cannot seem to find her footing, either in keeping the pacing suspenseful or creating characters worth caring about.
Top-notch talent John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes and Jacki Weaver are underused in parts that call for single-note performances that support hackneyed apocalypse themes, such as self-interest versus altruism and the power of hope when all seems lost.
Stripped of its quieter interludes, what is left is a pulpy road movie laced with standard monster-attack set-ups and pay-offs. Bier’s attempt at elevating this shallow material feels like a wasted effort.
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