“Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold,” demands an urgent Malorie (Sandra Bullock) to two children named Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) at the beginning of “Bird Box.” The film, based off the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, is similar to “A Quiet Place” but lacks the same depth.
The film travels back five years in the wake of mass suicides spreading abroad in Europe and Russia. Malorie, who’s pregnant at the time, quickly realizes the phenomenon hit home after a woman commits suicide outside her doctor’s office.
The town unfolds into chaos and the cause of the deaths is revealed. Malorie and a group of survivors surmise that seeing strange creatures cause the viewer to commit suicide. The only way to avoid death is to stay indoors with closed windows or navigate the outside world blindfolded.
The misfit group — including a pregnant woman, a middle-aged man, an elderly woman and several young people — band together and soon devolve into conflict. Douglas (John Malkovich) is bitter and insensitive to other survivors after his wife dies trying to help Malorie. His brash personality clashes with the good intentions of the others, and soon Malorie, Tom (Trevante Rhodes) and two babies are the only remaining survivors.
Over the next five years, Malorie and Tom adapt to a new family life and later hear a transmission message promising safety, shelter and community.
Audiences might draw parallels to John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” (2018), where unearthly creatures hunt people through sound. “Bird Box” isn’t as emotionally gripping and relies on a poor plot setup.
The first half of the film is the weakest, and its only purpose is to explain why Malorie has to navigate a river to safety with two small children. The plot wavers back and forth from past and present and eventually converges at the end.
This adds nothing to the plot, and it would have made more sense if the movie was presented linearly. “Bird Box” would be more intriguing if it focused more on Malorie’s journey, letting viewers piece together the issues on their own instead spelling them out for them explicitly.
Scenes with the group of survivors are poorly written and rely on predictable and sometimes unnecessary situations for a post-apocalyptic movie. For instance, the food supply dwindles and pregnant characters give birth at the most inconvenient time.
None of these conflicts add significance to the plot, making it difficult to feel bad for some of the people who die. The movie creates suspense, but never any startling jump scares.
A lot of the film’s deaths are overly gruesome and results of suicide which might unsettle some viewers. Viewers who are curious about the film but want to avoid these scenes should skip to just past the hour mark.
Sandra Bullock’s performance is the only redeeming factor, and she shines in the second half of the movie. Her determination to get the two children to safety is instinctive, and her ability to face tough decisions will strike an emotional chord with viewers. However, her character depth never reaches its full potential since she’s surrounded by weak characters and a muddled plot sequence.
The movie also makes a weak attempt to pull viewers into characters’ perspectives by showing what they see when they’re blindfolded. Seeing glimmers of light through them adds no valuable insight. For “A Quiet Place,” the sensory effects — called sound envelopes — let audiences hear from a deaf character’s perspective in some scenes which was crucial to understanding the movie. For “Bird Box,” attempts to make audiences feel part of the action come off as gimmicky.
On the surface, “Bird Box” seems like another version of “A Quiet Place,” but bland plot techniques and dumb characters put a damper on what could have been a strong film.
“Bird Box” is available on Netflix.