What You Don’t See… sure can bird you.
BIRD BOX is the movie M. Night Shyamalan tried to make with THE HAPPENING.
When an unseen entity causes people to kill themselves, a lone woman and two kids brave the rapids to a refugee destination. Blindfolded.
The hook in this compelling thriller is so audacious it works: “something” that can’t be seen – by us viewers – is making people commit suicide; something unholy whispering in the air around them; something that calls inside their skulls, something so soul-crushing that when they “see” it, they are compelled to smash their faces into glass, walk into traffic or throw themselves out of windows… something that its murderous acolytes (who refuse to wear blindfolds), will tell you is beautiful.
This “creature” apparently appears to each person differently. One victim looks into the void and asks, “Mom?” and then climbs into a burning car; one victim asks, “What the fuck is that?” then wells up with tears as she willfully crashes her car. Other than that, no one else describes what none of us viewers will ever see…
Lovecraftian horror sure saves on production budget.
BIRD BOX opens with Malorie (Sandra Bullock) grimly telling two kids that they are all going on a dangerous journey; that no matter what happens – do not remove your blindfolds! While blindfolded, they follow a rope-line to the river into a small rowboat, and Malorie rows away from shore. Through constant flashbacks, we learn how these desperate people arrived here…
FIVE YEARS AGO… After a visit to an obstetrician with her sister (Sarah Paulson, who is stricken by the creatures in an incredibly-acted scene), heavily pregnant Malorie takes refuge in a house of disparate strangers, sheltering from chaos erupting in the streets, as news reports tell of a worldwide plague of suicides. Amongst the strangers, John Malkovich (who makes his “O” face a lot here; not his orgasm face, you know what I’m talking about – when he makes his mouth that O shape while looking blankly at you), B.D. Wong (as always, a solid supporting player), Lil Rel Howery (who attaches an old world legend to the incomprehensible creatures), Jacki Weaver, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Rosa Salazar, and Danielle Macdonald as Olympia, another pregnant woman, clingy and insecure. Trevante Rhodes is also amongst the refugees as Tom (a solid leading man presence, who is yet to make his Great Movie).
The title refers to the fact that little pet birds get agitated when the creatures are around and do not die upon seeing them (we presume), and therefore make a good Early Warning Signal. Thus, on the river, Malorie insures their journey with a shoebox containing three parakeets.
From the novel by Josh Malerman, screenplayed by Eric Heisserer as compellingly as his other efforts (HOURS, ARRIVAL), and directed by Danish-born, award winning Susanne Bier (BROTHERS, IN A BETTER WORLD), the movie flits between the crises in the refugee house – how to get food, how to avoid the creatures, how to stay sane – to the danger of the present-day river.
The movie uses its non-chronological structure to create dire conundrums, as when Malorie tells the two kids in the boat that to navigate the rapids – someone has to look! As the terrified little girl and boy gaze at her with frightened eyes, a flashback gives us a clue on who Malorie might pick for the tragic sacrifice!
Edge-of-seat storytelling coupled with excellent performances across the board: Sarah Paulson is the one who asks, “What the fuck is that?” and her visage suddenly changes, her eyes glazing into tears. We wonder where she had to go in her head to transform her face like that! Was there CGI involved? I can’t tell. Can anyone be that good an actor? And later, a stressed Tom Hollander would join the refugees indoors, bringing his own esoteric fanaticism, and some malicious artist renderings of how the creature might look (as if to allude to the Lovecraftian bent of the film, one of the drawings resembles Cthulhu). Special mention to the little girl (Vivien Lyra Blair), with an adult demeanor far beyond her years.
BIRD BOX was such a hit when released on Netflix at the end of 2018, that idiotic copycats tried some of the blindfolded stunts enacted in the movie, mainly driving while blindfolded. Let these Darwin Award Winners winnow themselves out of the human race, I say.
There are a few distractions early in the movie, most notably – Sandy’s face! Like Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock must be nearing her 90s now, but her plastic surgeon is nowhere near the skill level of Nicole’s, who continues to make her look 33. Something about the way that young-woman skin is stretched across that old-woman skull – bugs me. Secondly, I hate Flip Dialogue! Thankfully, this movie avoids that trope of characters alerting us to their relationships in opening greetings, like “Hello, sis!” yet opts for Flip Dialogue which is just as skin-crawling: Bullock is painting, listening to loud music. Paulson enters and turns down the noise, Bullock playfully chides, “Asshole, I was listening to that!” (Oh, so they’re tight. Probably sisters.) Later, pregnant Bullock is lying on a table being examined by a doctor, “I’ve never slept well, even before this…condition.” Doctor replies (flippantly) “It’s called pregnancy.” Paulson chimes in (flippantly), “Don’t you know, doc, if you ignore something it goes away?” (Oh, these characters are sooooo tight. And how many viewers did we just lose?…) Thank Cthulhu that Paulson would stun us with that fear-face not two minutes from now, to keep us glued to our idiot boxes, pondering on the nature of fear, perception, death, and the cosmic horror of plastic surgeons.