Malorie (Sandra Bullock) has two young children with her – Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) as they make a dangerous journey down the river in a small row boat. To make matters worse, they all have to wear blindfolds… because if they see what’s out there, they will die! Along their journey the family will face the rigors of multi-day travel, unseen creatures, crazy people, and the dangers of the river itself.
The film intercuts between this time… and five years earlier when this whole thing began… People all around the globe are committing suicide! There’s some sort of creatures that whenever you look at it, it makes you do whatever you can to kill yourself. Malorie is a single, pregnant artist, and goes to her prenatal appointment with her sister (Sarah Paulson) when the suicide wave hits her area. Her sister kills herself and Malorie runs with the crowd to be taken into a house of other survivors: Tom (Trevante Rhodes), paranoid lawyer Douglas (John Malkovich), elderly Cheryl (Jacki Weaver), rookie cop Lucy (Rosa Salazar), drug dealer Felix (Machine Gun Kelly), also pregnant Olympia (Danielle MacDonald), supermarket clerk and conspiracy theorist Charlie (Lil Rel Howery), and the homeowner Greg (BD Wong).
The survivors begrudgingly work together to stay alive against such obstacles as needing to travel through town for supplies without being able to see what’s on the road, having strangers try to kill them, and trying not to kill each other as tensions rise. Along the way, we get clues about what’s causing the suicides, and why five years from now Malorie and the two young children are braving the river alone.
Bird Box is a Netflix Original written by Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Lights Out), based on the 2014 novel by Josh Malerman. It was directed by Susanne Bier (A Second Chance, Things We Lost In The Fire) with stunning cinematography by Salvatore Totino (Spider-Man: Homecoming, In The Heart Of The Sea).
Something to point out in that last paragraph is that the novel this film is based on was published back in 2014, before John Krasinski’s similar blockbuster movie A Quiet Place was even written. I’m bringing it up because I’m seeing a lot of people compare these two films… but it’s more a case of bad luck to have both movies come out in the same year than one copying the other. That said, Bird Box still feels like an amalgamation of A Quiet Place, The Happening, The Crazies, season one of The Walking Dead, and the universe created in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. I realize that’s a lot of comparisons, but that’s honestly how I’d summarize this movie.
I’ve never read the novel, so I’m not sure how true to the source material the movie was, but all the comps I mentioned above made the movie feel like a mish-mash of other ideas. There was an original idea at its core (can’t look at the scary things because they make you kill yourself), but most of the other components felt unoriginal. However, they’ve been pieced together in a way that was still somehow intense and entertaining. Because I’m familiar with those components, I wanted to hate this movie. But it was wildly entertaining and intense as hell. I was on the edge of my seat – even while thinking “Hey, they took that from The Happening!”
The biggest reason for it working as a film was the outstanding acting from every character in the film, even those toiling away in bit parts. Nobody called in their performance on this one. Everyone gave it their all to elevate this from horror film to what could have (and should have) been a blockbuster. And it really should have been a blockbuster: Netflix reports over 45 million accounts have watched Bird Box since it hit the streaming service on Dec. 21. Even by the most conservative estimates, in theatrical terms this would have translated into something approaching $400 MILLION in its first week alone. It makes me wonder how the producers are feeling going with a streaming deal instead of a traditional theatrical release…
Had certain other movies never come out, recently or not, Bird Box would’ve been a highly original horror/drama that you need to see. But because of the circumstances around its release, it feels derivative of a handful of other movies – some more obvious than others. If you can look past that feeling you’ve seen it all before, you’ll most likely enjoy this intense, brilliantly-acted thrill ride. Just be ready to notice all the places it may (or may not) have borrowed from.