Movie review: To see or not to see Netflix's 'Bird Box'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 10 2019 06:55 AM

Sandra Bullock stars in "Bird Box." Handout

MANILA -- "Bird Box" was released to stream worldwide on Netflix last December 21, 2018. You know that something about it connected with its audiences because since then, humorous memes about it (mostly having to do with being blindfolded) had been rife on social media, and these jokes persist up to now. It was impossible not to be aware of this movie, and I could not help but be drawn in by all the hype that surrounded it. 

Malorie Hayes was being driven home by her sister Jess after her prenatal checkup. Jess saw something in front of her that compelled her to crash her car and kill herself. Malorie escaped from the overturned car unharmed and saw that everybody on the streets were running around gripped with panic about the mass suicides happening around them. She was able to seek shelter in a house with other people who now had to figure out how to survive this deadly catastrophe.

The story (based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman) was told back and forth from the present (when blindfolded Malorie was taking two young kids, a nameless boy and girl, down a river in a boat) and five years ago (when Malorie was holed up in that house bickering with a motley group of fellow survivors). It was all very suspensefully done, as we feared not only that mysterious entity outside the house, we also feared the hearts and minds of the people inside the house with Malorie. 

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However, after watching, major questions would come to mind.

First and foremost was the nature of the powerful being/s that held human beings hostage inside their houses for five long years. The plot never gave us anything about the origin or the nature of this being causing the worldwide tragedy. Well whatever it was, these "monsters" never figured out a way of entering houses after all that time, which was also a strange detail. At the very end, we know it was still out there somewhere, but the poor humans apparently still know zilch about it.

Another bothersome aspect was the presence of humans who seemed to be immune to the visual suicide-inducing mesmerism of the monsters. They were instead brainwashed to flush out other humans who were hiding in their houses and cause them to look at the monsters outside and kill themselves. How did this happen? Were they insane before they saw the monster, that is why they were affected another way? It was a very random story device which kept up the suspense in the second half of the film, yet again the script never bothered to explain why this phenomenon was happening to certain people, not others.

Actually, the titular "bird box" itself was a problematic detail for me. It was shown in an early scene that birds can sense the monsters without seeing them. So, apparently Malorie was keeping the birds alive to be their advanced warning system of sorts. However, I never sensed that these birds even mattered at all in how the action went down in the second half of the film. The way they were kept in that small box, it was actually a miracle how those two lovebirds survived all those years or even the boat ride.

Thankfully, Sandra Bullock can always give us a sympathetic heroine, even if her Malorie was not exactly a likable character. Trevante Rhodes was her too-good-to-be-true knight-in-shining-armor Tom. How they kept healthy during given the dearth of food and water over the years, we don't know. How they could navigate outdoors and look for supplies so skillfully with blindfolded the whole time, we just have to accept. 

John Malkovich (Douglas), Jackie Weaver (Cheryl), BD Wong (Greg), Danielle Macdonald (Olympia) and Tom Hollander (Gary) played the other survivors in the house, whose fates and behaviors kept us in suspense. 

That is the problem when the script seemed to be making up the rules of the game as the story went along. Since we do not know anything about the monster at all, it was a case of anything goes. They can throw in anything to make things more exciting or scary. (In fact at a certain point, Malorie and the kids did not even really need to see the entity to be hypnotized by it.) 

However more importantly, overall, director Susanne Bier managed to generate enough suspense to keep us at the edge of our seats and entertained most of its 2-hour running time. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."