“Bird Box”, which was released in US in last week and then became widely available via Netflix this Friday, begins with a chilling premise and then provides a number of good moments to scare and unnerve us. I was entertained by these good moments to some degrees while appreciating the considerable efforts and skills put into them, but then I got impatient as watching the movie losing tension around its last act, and I also felt dissatisfied with its several weak aspects including its rather artificial ending.
After the opening scene showing its heroine hurriedly leaving along with two kids to somewhere, we see how everything looked fine and normal for her around five years ago. Although she has been pregnant for several years, Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock) has been mostly occupied with her artistic career while quite content with living alone in her studio/residence (Her baby’s father is vaguely mentioned only once, by the way), and she does not pay much attention to a TV news report on the spreading wave of inexplicable mass suicide across Europe and Russia.
Of course, things become quite serious and urgent not long after Malorie and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) go to a local hospital for the routine examination of her baby. As many people around them begin to kill themselves without no apparent reason, Malorie and Jessica instantly try to get away from the pandemonium, but then Jessica suddenly comes to be under some strange influence after seeing something, and she eventually kills herself right in front of Malorie.
While quite shocked by her sister’s death, Malorie fortunately finds a shelter in a nearby house, where a group of people are already hiding from the ongoing pandemonium outside. Once she and others in the house see that they are safe in the house for a while, they become a bit calmer than before, but they are still afraid of whatever is making many people suicidal outside. All they know about it is that they must not see it for avoiding becoming suicidal just like many others out there, so they naturally shut down and cover up every window in the house for their safety.
As Malorie and other main characters in the film try to survive as long as they can, the movie slowly increases the level of suspension through a series of visually limited but undeniably effective scenes. There is a nice scene involved with several video cameras installed outside the house, and then there later comes a tense, creepy sequence where Malorie and several other characters try to go to a certain nearby place by a vehicle thoroughly covered with paint and papers.
As time goes by, the situation gets worse as Malorie and others in the house become more isolated from the outside world without much hope. While they still have water and electricity, their circumstance remains as uncertain as before, and then they come to learn about another kind of danger when a frantic stranger comes into the house later in the story.
Their situation is frequently intercut with a part showing Malorie’s long, desperate journey with the two kids mentioned above. She recently received a radio message which seems to come from a safer place located somewhere around the downstream of a nearby river, and she hopes to get there along with the kids as soon as possible, but, of course, it is not so easy for her to sail a small boat along the river while she and the kids remain in their blindfolded state. In addition, there are many possible dangers here and there around the river, and we subsequently get a tense, unnerving scene where she has to leave the kids alone for a while as searching for some necessary items in an abandoned building.
Although the movie becomes more predictable as its two main storylines approach to their respective arrival points, it keeps things rolling via its vivid, palpable atmosphere at least, and its technical aspects are commendable on the whole. While cinematographer Salvatore Tontino constantly immerses the screen in the grey sense of dread and desolation, the moody electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is mixed well with disturbing sound effects on the soundtrack, and the movie also did a good job of handling the occasional shots emphasizing its heroine’s frequently limited viewpoint, which add more tension and suspense to the screen.
As the center of the movie, Sandra Bullock steadily carries the film with her engaging performance, and she is also surrounded by a bunch of notable performers. While John Malkovich is as sour and cynical as we can expect from him, Trevante Rhodes, who has been more prominent since his breakthrough turn in “Moonlight” (2016), clicks well with Bullock in several intimate moments between their characters, and Sarah Paulson, Lil Rel Howery, Jacki Weaver, Tom Hollander, Danielle Macdonald, BD Wong, and Pruitt Taylor Vince fill their broad supporting roles as much as they can.
“Bird Box”, which is based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, is directed by Susanne Bier, who previously made “Brothers” (2004), “After the Wedding” (2006), and Oscar-winning film “In a Better World” (2010). Although it is not good enough for recommendation, the movie is not entirely without good things at least, and I will not stop you if you just want to compare it with “A Quiet Place” (2018), which is a better film in my inconsequential opinion. While that movie really terrified me, “Bird Box” just mildly entertained me, and that was all.