Bullock is brilliant, but ‘Bird Box’ is unnerving

By Chic DiCiccio

Sandra Bullock, Julian Edwards (standing) and Vivien Lyra Blair in “Box.”
Photo courtesy of Bluegrass Films

During the week of Christmas, approximately 45 million people celebrated the holiday spirit by watching the horror-thriller “Bird Box.” There’s also been countless promos and commercials all over television, the internet, social media, buses, sandwich boards, etc. It’s basically the most hyped up movie to never be shown in theaters. 

So, is all the hype worth the trouble? Kinda. “Bird Box” gets to boast an intriguing set up and one of Sandra Bullock’s best performances ever, but it’s also loaded with stereotypical horror movie nonsense and for a scary movie … it’s not that scary. The best way to describe it is that it is periodically nerve-wracking. 

“Bird Box” greatly benefits from non-linear storytelling. The movie begins with Malorie (Bullock) harshly directing two kids, only addressed as Boy and Girl (Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair), on what to do during their upcoming river journey via boat. The fact that they cannot remove their blindfolds is heavily stressed and off they go on a metal fishing boat, unable to see where they are actually going. 

We are then taken back to five years prior when Jessica (Sarah Paulson) drops in on her then pregnant sister Malorie, who is such a shut-in that she doesn’t pay attention to current affairs. 

The news that Malorie has ignored is that some kind of strange illness has moved across eastern Europe, and it causes people to commit suicide. Malorie even blows that horrific news flash off just to hammer home that she’s really, really not a people person. 

Naturally, the mass suicide epidemic hits close to home and Malorie eventually makes her way to a house loaded with strangers and they begin to piece together what’s going on. It’s a fairly decent ensemble of actors (John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, BD Wong among them) who all get to play one-note characters. Some of them are too sympathetic, some too cruel, and after setting her up as an Ice Queen, “Bird Box” inexplicably turns Malorie into a Momma Bear after three days behind closed doors. 

From this point on, “Bird Box” becomes yet another version of “And Then There Were None.” Characters get picked off and it only becomes a matter of how and when as we know Malorie ends up alone five years later. The biggest mystery is deducing exactly what people are seeing that causes them to kill themselves and it isn’t spoiling it to say that it’s a massive letdown. 

It seems like there are scares to be had, but director Susanne Bier doesn’t pull any off. There’s also some poorly edited moments that move characters around in unexplainable ways. If not for the creepy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who excel at alarming tones), there wouldn’t be any underlying tension whatsoever. 

None of the movie’s faults can be pinned on Sandra Bullock. She’s so good that it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings of “Bird Box.” She’s always done well when playing an assertive person and it only makes it tougher to watch when she inevitably falls to emotional pieces.  

The attempted “ah ha” ending is only outdone by an even hokier character re-appearance that’s only done to show how much Malorie has grown as a person. It’s the final example of the biggest flaw of “Bird Box”: it focuses on characters in lieu of premise, which is far more interesting. 

While not nearly as terrible as previously over-hyped Netflix movies, “Bird Box” is slightly underwhelming. The most upsetting aspect is that it could have been so much better. 

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