Those who've seen the new Sandra Bullock-led thriller/kind of horror film Bird Box have been flocking (ha!) to Facebook in droves to cleverly and angrily clack their keys to the tune of "It's basically A Quiet Place!" They're not entirely wrong, they've just got it backwards. Indeed, Netflix's new vehicle does find the world ending amid a strange threat with a particular means of killing its victims, but the Josh Malerman novel on which it's based came out way back in 2014. Sorry, Krasinski fans.
In Bird Box, Bullock is swept up in the end of the world as we know it, a calamity caused by some invisible force (they call them "creatures") that, when gazed upon, causes people to see some invisible something and then kill themselves. We get hints that maybe it's literal angels, maybe it's demons, maybe it's some ancient force that cleanses the Earth every so often. Whatever. All we really know is that the mentally ill seemingly have no problem looking right at whatever the creature might be, and they want everyone else to look, too. So, like, there's more danger there, too.
Those who wish to stay alive stay indoors (because the creatures' one weakness is apparently being inside) or wear blindfolds when they have no choice but to scavenge for supplies and such out in the open. But when all seems lost and Bullock is forced to traverse a river, blindfolded and with a couple of kids and a box full of birds in tow, blah blah blah blah blah.
Bird Box leans too intently into its own premise, building and building but never really revealing. There's that old horror movie rule about how showing the monster defuses the scares—but in this case, never learning what the creatures are or what exactly they're up to is incredibly irritating.
Even worse are the pointless characters who, in most cases, may as well announce they're just there to die moments later. John Malkovich is particularly grating in a role that seems as if it were written to mock his Malkovichian gestalt; he yells and stomps and is a dick. Everything else, meanwhile, pretty much just happens to Bullock, and she reacts in wide-eyed terror or fumbles sightlessly against her invisible foes and errant tree branches alike.
There may be something to be said for creating a sense of dread and tension, but the resolution that eventually comes in Bird Box is as hollow as it is dissatisfying. If you Google the book or movie, you'll find plenty of articles about how director Susan Bier (a foreign language Oscar winner, by the way) decided to keep the ending less dark than in the book. This seems a misstep, and ultimately one designed to play better to underestimated audiences rather than trust us to soak in and appreciate a more nihilistic viewpoint. Pity, that, because the core ideas at play would have been enough to keep us caring had the pacing, acting and those damn nosy kids not been so profoundly lacking.
+Cool and spooky idea
-Mostly tedious and dissatisfying
Directed by Bier
With Bullock and Malkovich
Netflix, R, 124 min.