Sandra Bullock shines in Netflix’s nail-biting survival thriller Bird Box


Netflix’s Bird Box is a nerve-wracking psychological thriller that seeks to examine the way our most humanistic values persevere even in the face of devastating loss.

As if one person committing suicide isn’t tragic enough, imagine living in a world where mass suicides have become the norm. Even worse, the cause is an invisible eldritch abomination of sorts that gorges itself on your most insidious memories and fears. If you can picture an apocalyptic wasteland such as that one then you can begin to understand the magnitude of peril Sandra Bullock’s character, Malorie, faces in Netflix’s latest original film, Bird Box.

If the name rings a bell, you may be thinking of John Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name. Scripts for Bird Box have been kicked around for years. The original film conception had Andy Muschietti (director of It and the upcoming It: Chapter Two) attached but eventually Netflix bought the production rights.

2018 has been a stellar year for the horror genre. Within the past twelve months we’ve gotten the terrific Suspiria remake starring Dakota Johnson, the critically acclaimed, female-directed, Sundance rape/revenge horror, Revenge, Toni Collette’s powerhouse performance in the phenomenal Hereditary, and John Krasinski’s massive critical and box office success, A Quiet Place.

It’s worth mentioning A Quiet Place due to the many similarities it shares with Bird Box. Both films deal with some form of sensory deprivation. In A Quiet Place, the characters are not allowed to make a single sound due to the creatures in that film having an advanced form of hearing which they then use to stalk their prey.

In Bird Box, merely opening your eyes outdoors can be your downfall if you inadvertently succumb to one of the many invisible monsters lurking around every corner. All it takes is a single glance to send you into a suicidal state of hysterical ecstasy or despair.

They also share another key plot point in that each film has a pregnant woman in a starring role. It’s impossible to ignore these factors when reviewing Bird Box. Clearly, Bird Box was inspired by certain elements of A Quiet Place, particularly in terms of how the survival techniques are utilized. Still, I do believe Bird Box is a strong enough film in its own right to merit a closer look outside of A Quiet Place’s influence.

Pictued: Julian Edwards and Sandra Bullock, Photo courtesy of Netflix Media – Photo Credit to Saeed Adyani

Academy Award winner, Sandra Bullock, is at her best in the role of troubled Malorie and her firm denial of impending motherhood. The role is unlike her normal roles, certainly unlike the role she won an Oscar for in The Blind Side.

It puts her in the middle of intense and provocative material as a woman struggling to make a life for her two children. Two children she distances herself from so greatly, she has taken to calling them Girl and Boy rather than giving them names.

I will note the one issue I had with this film is its portrayal of motherhood. The film was helmed by a male writer and I think this often leads to a troubling depiction of maternity, especially in horror or dystopian films. The idea is that a woman can only find her salvation by forging a healthy maternal instinct and it is inherently problematic in what that says about women.

Hollywood is afraid to write women as unfit mothers, or bad mothers, or anything other than women who love deeply and unconditionally despite the fact not all women are like that. It’s frustrating to see a topic so integral to human nature such as childbirth and child-rearing be handled in a clumsy and often cliche manner.

I believe the subject deserves more nuanced portrayals in media and it would help to have more female screenwriters in collaboration with women directors.

But, prior to the birth of any children, we learn that Malorie toils with a deeply nihilistic view of her life. Entrenched in her by an emotionally abusive father, or so it is implied, and abandoned by the father of her child (again, an implication), she doesn’t even make the effort to prepare her home for her impending baby.

Sarah Paulson in Bird Box – Photo courtesy of Netflix Media

When the film begins, Malorie is spending time in a well-worn studio, a place that looks lived in and one covered in deconstructions and paintings in various states of finish. Her sister, played by Sarah Paulson (who co-starred with Bullock in this year’s heist film Ocean’s 8) points out there isn’t even room for a child. It’s not a habitable space for another person, barely for Malorie herself.

Our initial introduction to Malorie is played by a more reserved and concise Bullock, who is at ease playing a woman in a somewhat relaxed state of denial, worrying more about her own selfish endeavors than anything that interferes with her comfort zone. But it doesn’t take long for Bird Box’s main plot to kick into high gear.

The terrible plague decimating the population begins as a far-fetched news bulletin concerning another continent – until it doesn’t. When it strikes America it strikes hard and leaves few survivors behind. Malorie is lucky to find any shelter at all, nonetheless a place that will bring her love and a home for many years to come.

It’s not only Bullock who does impeccable work in this film. Academy Award nominee John Malkovich also stars as the cynical Douglas, a man who claims he is never wrong and doesn’t believe any of them will survive the terrors brought upon them by the unseen creatures. Malkovich is a surprising source of dark humor and is a welcome counterweight to Lil Rel Howry’s (Get Out) more conventional comic relief role. Both of them relieve a little tension when the film wanders into exceedingly dark territory.

One scene in particular involving them is also one of the most inventive and anxiety-inducing scenes of the film involving a car, black paint, and a GPS.

As Bullock’s love interest, Tom, is Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight). Rhodes and Bullock have a powerful, quietly smoldering chemistry and their scenes together are some of the films best. Bird Box is not told in chronological order and during one segment of the timeline Bullock and Rhodes get many scenes together. They’re some of the most compelling and integral scenes of the film.

Pictured: Trevante Rhodes and Sandra Bullock – Photo courtesy of Netflix Media – Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani

In regards to the changing timeline, I know it was an important aspect of the book and I want to commend the production team of Bird Box to maintaining it in the film script. Making the audience jump from the present to the past was an excellent way to build tension throughout the film.

I can see detractors of this method pointing out that it spoils the fates of a few characters but I don’t necessarily agree with that. Instead, it prepares us for the horrors to come.

Even amidst brief moments of happiness between the survivors, we’re consistently kept on edge knowing that the picture at hand doesn’t compare to the one we know is coming down the line. It keeps the viewer from ever being allowed to relax when the scenes they’re being shown do not match up to the inevitable pats of the journey they know are lurking on the horizon.

There were a few moments of Bird Box where the action lulls, characterization occurs and relationship develops, not during one single frame of this movie did I feel I could let my guard down. It’s not unlike the way the characters within the universe surely felt. The sense of foreboding is so palpable it makes it too hard to think of anything else.

Next. Shudder's Christmas Presence is a holiday horror treat. dark

Susanne Bier is the accomplished award-winning director of Bird Box. She was the first female director to have won an Emmy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe. She is most well-known for her work on the 2010 Danish thriller, In a Better World.

Bird Box is now streaming on Netflix. 

What did you think about Bird Box? What are some of the most stressful horror movies you’ve ever watched? Let us know in the comments?