BIRD BOX, US, 2018. Starriing Sandra Bullock, Travante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Vivien Lara Blair, Julian Edwards. Directed by Suzanne Bier. 124 minutes. Rated MA (strong violence, sex scene, suicide themes).
Bird Box is an unexpected title for an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic drama. It has been directed by Suzanne Bier, Danish director who won an Oscar for In a Better World, who has directed films in Europe and in the United States as well as the adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager.
At the opening of the film, we are introduced to a pregnant artist, Malorie (no father in view), moody, reluctantly going to visit the obstetrician, urged on by her sister (Sarah Paulson). We glimpse television stories about a disaster in Russia, crowds going berserk, mass suicides. And, within a short time, it takes over in the United States, women bashing their heads against glass windows, crowds running in the streets, vehicles hitting them, crashing into one another, vehicles on fire – and, scenes of people with madness in their eyes, glazed intensity before they go to kill themselves.
Malorie herself is in danger on the streets, almost killed, until a kind woman from a house nearby hurries out, despite her husband’s warning her not to, to help but then she is taken over, willingly gets into a flaming car.
The major part of the film concerns the range of people who have taken refuge in the house. They are a mixed group, John Malkovich as Douglas the self-centred on unwilling host, Travante Rhodes as Tom, a sympathetic worker, some of the staff from a nearby supermarket, Danielle Macdonald desperately taking refuge despite opposition, also pregnant, Jacki Weaver who proves to be a life-saving helper at the births, and, later, Tom Hollander as a mysterious refugee from an institution who does weird illustrations.
The screenplay does not give any detailed explanation of what has happened, only some suggestions, something in the air, sabotage… In fact, the filmmakers ultimately decided not to show anything of what the victims saw what, just the movement in the atmosphere, their eyes opened and transformed to death. Which means then that the survivors have to block out sight of the outside world, emerging only wearing blindfolds. It might defy realism, but the sequence where the group block the car windows, rely on the GSP to get them to the supermarket for supplies, driving over bodies and debris, does create some tension.
And, intersecting with this story is an episode, five years later, with Malorie desperate with a little boy and a little girl, explaining to them that they have to go on a voyage on the river, all of them blindfold, trusting her absolutely. This story draws attention as they experience difficulties on the river, crashing into a wreck, the boat overturning and the danger to the children, going through the rapids.
There are continual ragers around the countryside, able to see, but commenting on how wonderful the beauty is that they can see, urging others to look, to remove the blindfolds, to embrace the beauty.
There are quite a number of disasters, victims being exposed to the outside world, suicides, murders, and quite some empathy at the end towards Malorie, Tom and the children.
The final destination for Malorie and the children has touches of paradise – but, is not quite what the audience might have expected which makes the ending and the finale different, and rather touching in its way.
The film is rather long, sometimes repetitive, which may tax the impatient who want action to move along. However, for those drawn into the story, the mystery, the human experiences, the challenges, it proves to be an interesting, sometimes more humane, post-apocalyptic drama.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.