While I was looking for the featured image for this review, I kept coming across news articles about how Bird Box has been ‘Netflix’s Biggest Hit Yet!’, bringing in over 45 million accounts, and subsequently even more viewers. Upon first hearing this, it sounded impressive – if only movies like Widows had brought in such a huge crowd. Then I remembered that there’s a pretty key difference between watching a film on Netflix and watching a film in a theatre: for the former, you don’t have to get off the sofa and pay an extra fee. And frankly, if I had seen Bird Box at my local cinema and forked out an (admittedly low) fee of £5 for it, I probably would have gone home feeling a little cheated.
The premise, without any further examination, is decently interesting, and I’m sure the original novel fleshes it out into something more. The world has suddenly been invaded by mysterious beings that compel people to kill themselves if they look at them. This creates the surprisingly arresting image of Sandra Bullock steering a paddle boat with two small children onboard, every character blindfolded. The opening monologue hammers home the stakes here, with Bullock demanding silence and obedience from her children, using sternness almost to the point of cruelty. Unfortunately, though, the film then cuts to a flashback before the apocalypse, and spends a huge chunk of the runtime on characters that we know won’t make it, and who aren’t interesting enough to be worth our time anyway.
At least the actors are trying hard for the most part. John Malkovich never gives a bad performance, and he provides the majority of the entertainment value here as a bitter alcoholic who honestly can’t be arsed with the whole end-of-the-world scenario. Sandra Bullock also conveys an impressive mix of reluctance and determination, serving the film’s overarching theme of responsibility and motherhood better than the bizarre script ever does. The only actors that I can truly say did a bad job are the two children, and that issue definitely lies with the director Susanne Bier – if she had just told them to display more emotional extremity at the scarier points in the film, some much-needed intensity would have been granted.
Usually, I’m not the type of reviewer to get too wrapped up in logical fallacies and questionable world building, but I reached my breaking point with the monsters of this film, who are never at any point given any kind of explanation. The most we get is a minor comic relief character suggesting they could be demons – this idea is quickly shot down, and their potential origin is never explored again. For a film with a less abstract monster, I wouldn’t have cared, but when they literally force you to commit suicide, I feel like some kind of reasoning, even if fantastical, is required. Otherwise, the tension of many scenes is lost to wondering what the hell is even happening.
But despite all of these criticisms, I kept watching on my laptop screen over a bowl of pasta. It may be flawed, but it’s also entertaining as hell, particularly with the convenience of watching it in your own home. So if you have Netflix and two hours to kill – and have exhausted Roma already – pop this on, and be glad it isn’t Bright.