“If you look, you will die. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
When a movie starts off as intensely as the speech Sandra Bullock’s character, Malorie, gives to her two young children, it’s hard not to feel a little afraid for them.
Out now on Netflix, Bird Box is a survival thriller that compels you to keep watching as its characters stumble around blindfolded, trying to survive in a world where to see is to die.
Based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 post-apocalyptic novel of the same name and directed by Oscar-winner Susanne Bier (In a Better World, The Night Manager), Bird Box is set in a world where its population has been decimated by a mysterious force. What is this mysterious force? No one knows, but only one thing is certain: if you see it, you are compelled to take your own life.
A heavily-pregnant Malorie somehow manages to survive the initial outbreak, but eventually runs out of options five years later and is forced to flee with her two children down a treacherous river to the one place left that may offer sanctuary. However, to survive, they’ll have to undertake the perilous two-day journey blindfolded.
When I heard the premise of this movie, the first thing that came to mind was 2017 thriller A Quiet Place. Like that movie, Bird Box features unknown and unseen assailants that use our senses against us – A Quiet Place forces its characters to stay silent at all times, while Bird Box’s characters are deprived of the sense of sight.
A Quiet Place took away our ability to communicate using sound, and the fear we felt was deafening. Bird Box takes away our sense of sight, and it made us blind with terror. Ever tried driving blind relying only on a GPS? Ever had to navigate a raging river while blindfolded? Both movies prey on our fears, our paranoia and our sense of vulnerability when it comes to these abilities that we take for granted so much.
It’s a testament to Netflix’s growing credentials that it got Bullock to star in Bird Box, and a director of Bier’s pedigree to make it. The premise alone is gripping enough that it would have been terrifying if it were just Bullock on her own (as we saw in Gravity, she’s good enough to make it work). But adding two children in the boat with her ups the stakes even higher, and also sets up one of the film’s more emotional subplots – Malorie’s acceptance of her role as a mother.
Bier interweaves Malorie and the kids’ journey down the river with flashbacks to the beginning of the crisis, essentially giving us two separate threads with very different threats and thrills that manage to tie together somehow. Both threads give different elements to the overall experience – one feeds the paranoia bit by bit until the tension gets unbearable (watch out for the most terrifying use of a car’s proximity sensor ever), while the other is a heart-pounding adrenaline rush of tension and fear.
Even without showing us the monsters pursuing them, there is a palatable sense of dread and fear throughout the movie, though I admit that I wished I could have watched it on the big screen instead of a TV or a laptop.
Still, all credit to Bier’s direction and Bullock’s performance, for making a genuinely thrilling movie that still shines regardless of the device you watch it on. So take that blindfold off and see it for yourself.
Bird Box is now available on Netflix.
Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich.