BIRD BOX opens with one of the most cinematically jarring concepts: Sandra Bullock is mad at you. Well, not you, per say, but the children whose POV you share — first called ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ — in the apparently post-apocalyptic hellscape you inhabit with Aunt Sandra. :You never, ever take off your blindfold. If I find that you have, I will hurt you.” she says to you (the children). It’s a sentiment that comes to have a touch of irony after the facts of the universe become clear: If you look, you will die. Soon after this piercing opener, we meet the titular bird box (quite literally a box full o’ birds), and Aunt Sandra and the children are on their way to parts unknown.
The film wastes no time in getting to the meat of it: In a flashback, we learn that a rash of strange mass suicides has struck Russia. Now, I immediately felt propelled back to my seat many moons ago when I saw The Happening that one and only time. Friends, The Happening is a bad movie, one that capitalizes on and exploits the act of suicide, in my humble opinion. So, naturally, I felt my jaw tighten and my posture shift to that of annoyance at this plot point. Then, Sarah Paulson appeared, using one of my very favorite teasing techniques — playfully calling someone a “dumb-dumb”. So, I endured. And I’m glad I did.
Within the first five minutes I felt hopelessly captured by Bullocks’ brooding, fiercely relatable Malorie. The film’s, albeit unfortunate, choice to make the end-times centered around a supernatural entity that forces people to die by suicide still makes an effort that similar films never really did: Focus on and capture the humanness surrounding the incidents.
Problems aside, BIRD BOX is a fantastic horror film: It spends the majority of its time cutting back in forth between present-day Malorie and the children and the initial days after the suicides begin, which works effectively by leaving you clueless in both timelines — driving in the dread of not knowing what the fuck is going on. Additionally, you never actually see or come to understand what’s ‘happening’ (sorry), which, as a found-footage fanatic, is decidedly the right tactic to me. There’s nothing scarier than the unknown. And though there’s plenty of terror and sadness to be felt by this, the movie evenly weighs that with it’s undeniable humor and heart. The banter between John Malkovich’s Douglas and Malorie managed to procure a few genuine LOL’s from me. And in a departure from most post-apocalyptic cast ensembles, we spend a lot more time connecting with the secondary characters.
I was also personally delighted to see Danielle MacDonald appear, playing the effervescent Olympia. In one of the tenderest scenes in the film, the mutually pregnant Malorie and Olympia share a moment of vulnerability, “You’re not soft like me,” Olympia says. ‘My parents did everything for me, then my husband. I got soft from all that love.’ To which Malorie responds, ‘Well, I was raised by wolves, so.’ After that, Olympia begs her to take care of her baby if something should happen to her. Malorie begrudgingly agrees, while giving Olympia her ‘baby shower; gift: a stuffed Hello Kitty keychain. This scene was among my favorites, because unlike other movies where such a juxtaposition between these two characters would demand you to come to some kind of conclusion about the two women’s strengths and weaknesses — BIRD BOX doesn’t ask you to judge, but merely observe.
Ultimately, BIRD BOX is survivalist horror at its finest. I could go on at a too-considerable length, but I was mostly impressed with how it takes themes we’re familiar with in post-apocalyptic cinema — what it means to be a community, what love looks like, fearing change and responsibility (aka motherhood) – and makes them uniquely its own. It poses questions, among others, like: How can you look out for others and not expect they’ll look out for you? What does strength look like? What sacrifices are you willing to make for the greater good, and when do you reject such sacrifices? BIRD BOX invites, nay challenges, you to consider these questions, and a whole lot more.
BIRD BOX will be released globally on Netflix on December 21 and will have an expanded theatrical release in additionalt heaters in the U.S., and throughout Europe.