Following an unknown global catastrophe, in Bird Box a mother (Bullock) must flee with her children down a treacherous river in search of safety. But due to unseen deadly forces, the perilous journey must be made blindfolded.
The high-concept post-apocalyptic pic is handicapped by evoking too many things we’ve seen before, writes Aaron Yap
Timing is everything when it comes to high concepts, and Bird Box, at its least inspired, arrives exactly like the steaming pile of leftovers one would expect Netflix to scoop up without hesitation. Its closest, unavoidably comparative antecedent, John Krasinski’s runaway monster-thriller hit A Quiet Place, rattled audiences with a gimmicky premise built around constraining its protagonists to a life of silence.
The similarly post-apocalyptic Bird Box, an adaptation of Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel, aims to do the same by depriving its characters of sight, as mystery-shrouded Lovecraftian forces descend upon Earth, causing anyone who sees them to commit suicide. If your déjà vu meter is heating up right now, it’s understandable. Bird Box is handicapped by evoking everything from The Happening to The Mist to Lost’s smoke monster. In places, it also unfolds like a more malevolent version of HBO’s The Leftovers.
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Nevertheless, the hook is still irresistible, and you’d have to be utterly incompetent to completely screw it up. Susanne Bier (The Night Manager), far from a traditionally genre-leaning director, doesn’t realise the material’s full potential, sticking the landing insofar as mounting what is ultimately a big-budget pilot for a show that doesn’t exist.
But beyond that, some tropey idiocy, and a shrilly written ensemble, Bird Box intermittently works. Bier ratchets up several crescendos of harrowing peril, allows our imagination to roam by keeping the true nature of the pandemic largely ambiguous, and finds in all the chaos, a serviceable vehicle for a resourceful and centred Sandra Bullock.