Birdbox boosted by strong, experienced cast

For practical reasons, I focus my reviews on movies released in commercial theaters. But several friends encouraged me to watch Bird Box (Netflix). Bird Box’s post-apocalyptic thriller theme finally tipped me over the edge. I was pleasantly surprised: I was engaged throughout movie, Sandra Bullock leads a very strong cast of actors, and the ending (if you haven’t read the book), is thought provoking.

The story follows the survival choices made by Malorie Hayes (Bullock) as she tries to lead two young children to safety after the human species has been devastated by mysterious and invisible creatures–at least we think they are creatures. All we know is that when humans look toward the phenomena, they begin hallucinating and commit nearly instant suicide. While the phenomenon is a pandemic, the source of the illness or the sudden changes in behavior is never revealed.

We are exposed to the full arc of Malorie’s story through flashbacks. The movie opens with Malorie desperately imploring her children to keep their blindfolds on, and their subsequent escape onto a river in a small rowboat. Then, we flash back to five years earlier when life was “normal.” Malorie is pregnant, but has been abandoned by her partner (or spouse). As the world succumbs to the effects of the paranormal presence, she is given safe harbor in a home. The creatures apparently cannot go into buildings. Once inside, she bunkers down with a band of other survivors, including another pregnant woman. As we expect, the survivors begin dropping through through various acts of heroism and errors in judgement.

The movie holds together, however, because it’s more than just good acting in a horror show. The story of Bird Box is also the story of Malorie. Abandoned, humiliated, and angry, she projects her anxiety, fears, and frustrations on her family, including her unborn child. In the midst of the carnage and chaos, can she heal? Is her commitment to the children out of duty, love, or a quest for redemption? Will she sacrifice her children for her own survival? These human questions and others are answered as we see her relationships unfold under the stress of her (and her group’s) attempts to survive in the face of overwhelming uncertainty and the inevitable paranoia it engenders.

Viewers have criticized the movie because the story leaves many questions unanswered. The movie, however, is Malorie’s story, and her actions and choices are driven by the context and the constraints as she perceives them. This is a post-apocalyptic thriller. Marorie, like most people faced with an event like this, will never have these questions answered. Nevertheless, audience members who prefer movies that tie up all the loose ends by the end will likely leave dissatisfied.

A big benefit: Bird Box is helped by a fine and experienced cast, including John Malkovich as a cynical survivor, Trevante Rhodes as her stalwart partner, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, Danielle Macdonald, Jackie Weaver, B.D. Wong, Rosa Salazar, and others.

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