By Matthew Simmons
Saying 2018 was a huge year for horror films is an understatement. Films like Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and the Suspiria remake premiered to critical and commercial success, and some of those films are still major contenders in this year’s packed awards season (PLEASE don’t forget about Toni Collette, Academy). That momentum carried through all the way to the end of the year, with Netflix’s Bird Box. Directed by Susanne Bier and starring A-listers such as Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich, the film follows Malorie (Bullock) through two different events set five years apart – the first being her trying to survive a mass epidemic in which people begin to commit suicide after seeing supernatural beings, and the second is her and two unnamed children taking a dangerous river supposedly to safety. Upon release, Bird Box was an unprecedented cultural hit, with Netflix claiming it to have their biggest opening seven-day viewership numbers (to some skepticism) as well as inspiring countless memes and challenges. All that being said, one question remains – does the quality of the film exactly warrant the amount of hype that followed?
Bird Box opens strong with an intriguing premise and a thrilling, white-knuckle action sequence involving Malorie and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) trying to drive to safely amidst the unfolding chaos. Unfortunately, by the time Malorie reaches a safe house, the film immediately plateaus, falling under the weight of its ambitions and following some predictable story beats. That’s not to say that the film is unwatchable. The performances throughout are mostly strong across the board, minus a few awkward side characters who don’t have much to do or add to the overall story (Machine Gun Kelly’s character’s motivation seems to be to “act confused and drop the f-bomb as many times as possible”). Bullock does some great, intense work, and the rest of the supporting cast is solid, including standouts Malkovich, Tom Hollander, and Trevante Rhodes, who I hope gets more leading roles in the future. The biggest issues with Bird Box are the pacing and editing. The scenes in the past at the safe house are a little too drawn out. There are attempts to bring some characterization out, but with so many characters to evolve while focusing on two different timelines, a lot of these interactions (and subsequent deaths) don’t reach the emotional heights they strive for. And the film’s sequences on the river, while well-crafted, are too sparse to be intertwined with the other narrative and takes viewers out of the moment. The river scenes could have easily been saved and used as the film’s third act. Speaking of the third act, the film ends in such a convoluted way that leaves many questions unanswered that’s more frustrating than thought-provoking.
Bird Box is not a terrible film by any means – it has enough going for it to be an entertaining late-night watch. Unfortunately, it’s not much more than that, and it is hard not to be disappointed when thinking of the film’s semi-wasted potential.