Cast: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson. Directed by: Susanne Bier
With this late in the year release, Netflix offered an early Christmas present. Bird Box is a film that will inevitably get compared to A Quiet Place, because of its ‘if you can’t see it you won’t die’ motif being similar to the ‘silence if you want to live’ motif of the other film, but what this little thriller has more in common with is the little-seen (and also Netflix produced) Cargo with Martin Freeman.
Bird Box follows Mallory (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to take her two children – Girl and Boy – down a river blindfolded, knowing that if she sees a sinister creature it will terrify her into suicide.
Director Susanne Bier is no fool, she can make a movie. Having made the original Brothers she moved on to After The Wedding, Love is All You Need, Serena and the excellent miniseries The Night Manager. Here, she easily manages to make one of the most intriguing and intense thrillers of the year.
Bier knows how to ratchet up tension; she managed to do it over several episodes with The Night Manager, and here has no problem shifting two timeframes, waiting for a collision of the two to reveal secrets. She is also adept at marshalling large ensembles, and can therefore easily make this a film that rests on Bullock’s more than able shoulders, but also a film that has many interesting characters.
Bullock is as solid as you would want her to be, able to show a tough, no-nonsense character while also showing eventual change in her that keeps you wondering what is driving her. It appears to be a role she is passionate about and it shows in the conviction of her delivery and the way she changes the way she stands.
Around her is a solid supporting cast – John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, Colson Baker and BD Wong all co-star and due to their character actor status leads you to never be sure who might die and when. But the real stand out is Trevante Rhodes who anchors the film with his supporting turn as Tom. He skews the usual narrative of being tough and softening but being someone who is open and warm to begin with.
The film might play into a George A. Romero style of filmmaking in which the end means a new beginning but the film is more interested in character study than apocalyptic violence which means when a sequence of true horror comes around it’s all the more horrible and all the more terrifying.
For those looking for slick horror, gore and the like then they might be disappointed, what we have here is something approaching character study, with emotion at its centre and a payoff that allows for more and more emotional resonance for the viewers. It’s ironic that a film that is all about not looking would be a must-see thriller, but Bier has managed it in spades.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.