Could this be the front-runner for most memed movie of the year? Bird Box, Netflix’s latest viral hit, is a clunky mish-mash of a film that is barely redeemed by Sandra Bullock’s occasionally strong performance as a woman facing the transition to maternal commitment. Set in an apocalyptic scenario akin to A Quiet Place, the monsters in this release now prey not your voice, but on your sight – one glance at these spooky spectres compels you to immediately end your life. This allows for some gruesomely entertaining action scenes, but the film is almost immediately bogged down by the freakshow of mismatched characters introduced only fifteen minutes into the runtime, when Malorie (Sandra Bullock) takes shelter in a house crowded with strangers.
Where to start? There’s Lil’ Rel Howery practically reprising his role from Get Out, seemingly unaware that he has to play a different character; Trevante Rhodes of Moonlight fame is just there, awkwardly hovering until he’s actually given a meaningful role to play. To my outright astonishment (I had to pause the movie and check – surely it can’t be him?), C-list rapper Machine Gun Kelly is also given a significant role in this horror/thriller, leaving me baffled every time he appeared on-screen. You might think a veteran like John Malkovich could salvage this awkward mess, but he too delivers a lukewarm and uninspired performance as the misanthropic houseowner, Douglas.
“This is the chief failure of the film – an unconvincing reconciliation of two very different messages”
Douglas, a self-proclaimed ‘asshole’, is soon revealed to be a lazy caricature of the average Trump voter, or perhaps even the President himself, allowing Bullock to righteously lampoon his ‘better them than us’ attitude in a sickeningly self-congratulatory manner. This heavy-handed swipe at the current administration (Malkovich even says ‘mak[e] the end of the world great again’ – cringe) only serves to further demonstrate the Hollywood elite’s inability to make meaningful political statements.
This clumsy initial scenario is interlaced throughout by the central narrative of the film: Malorie’s gruelling, blind-folded odyssey down a treacherous river with two young children in tow. Set five years after the start of the suicide apocalypse, these scenes are far more engaging than the stagnant environment of the safehouse, and director Susanne Bier knows it, peppering the film with numerous flash-forwards. This is the chief failure of the film – an unconvincing reconciliation of two very different messages – with the trials and tribulations of motherhood being far more poignant a theme than petty political name-calling.
Despite all this, Bird Box – however confused and messy it is – is often quite a fun watch, and certainly picks up around two-thirds through the runtime, when the focus moves away from all the distracting characters and deservedly onto Bullock. Bier manages to set up an effective tug at the heart-strings right at the end. However, most of the film does not seem to realise that the more space Bullock is given to work with, the more Bird Box succeeds.