'Bird Box' Offers Post-Apocalyptic Tension That Feels Familiar Directed by Susanne Bier
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich
Published Dec 19, 2018This year's best horror films challenged tropes (Annihilation), tactics (Hereditary) and the conventions of cinema itself (A Quiet Place). Bird Box doesn't do any of that. Though its particular brand of "extraterrestrial creatures lay waste to human civilization" premise bears a striking resemblance to A Quiet Place, it's a far less ambitious beast — it's a straightforward, post-apocalyptic horror film. But while it's less challenging than its contemporaries, it still delivers on plenty of thrills.
Sandra Bullock stars as Malorie, simultaneously dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and the end of humanity as we know it, as caused by a mysterious band of extraterrestrials who cause anyone who sees them to ominously attempt suicide. The film jumps around between the early days of the apocalypse, as Malorie waits out her pregnancy in a safe house led by crotchety Douglas (a hilarious John Malkovich), and five years later, as Malorie leads two children (Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair) through a treacherous, blindfolded journey across a river in pursuit of a windowless refuge.
Bullock's Malorie is a badass, no-nonsense protagonist who is endlessly root-able as she fights for survival. Her prickly exterior comes off as sharp and justified, and her progression throughout the film feels organic, but not at the expense of her edge. She's anchored by a strong supporting cast, including Malkovich as the neighbour-suing, booze-guzzling leader of the safe house, and Trevante Rhodes as tender, caring Tom. The dialogue isn't the smoothest, but the safe house scenes feature plenty of engaging characters.
Thanks to its clever central premise, which robs the characters of their sight lest they become victims of the mysterious creatures, the film also finds plenty of ways to ratchet up the tension, including a drive in a car with blacked-out windows and plenty of dramatic moments on a boat. It may not rewrite the rules, but it does what a horror film is supposed to do — instil plenty of fear. The score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, certainly helps as well.
The film plays it safe more than its complex concept intended, but it's good for a few laughs and thrills — there are plenty worse ways to spend a few hours during the holiday season.