Perhaps too hastily and unfairly dubbed as ‘A Quiet Place (but without sight)’ simply for having a vaguely similar high-concept premise, The Night Manager director Susanne Bier’s Bird Box presents a chilling and uncompromisingly dark post-apocalyptic narrative. Adapted from Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name, it’s a promising production which may ultimately suffer from failing to measure up tonally and thematically to John Krasinski’s game-changing horror narrative.
Presenting a slow-burning, if at times overly simplistic plot, Bird Box actually owes more to the old George A. Romero bleak and unforgiving “end of the world” films of antagonistic survivors than it does to A Quiet Place’s more straightforward monster story.
Reluctant, single mother-to-be Malorie has given very little thought to the fate awaiting her after the birth of her unwanted child. Pressed by her worried sister (Sarah Paulson in a disappointingly brief appearance) to attend a scheduled prenatal appointment, the two find themselves caught up in the chaos when a mysterious force starts killing people. Holed up indoors with a group of strangers, including a resourceful construction worker, played with great conviction by Trevante Rhodes, and a cantankerous, bad-mannered drunk (John Malkovich), Malorie has no other option but to rely on these strangers if she and her unborn child are to survive the end of the world.
Sandra Bullock excels as a woman who has learnt to rely solely on her survival instincts.
Re-emerging five years later, Malorie has learnt to live with the horrors of what awaits her and the two children she’s trying to get to safety. Refusing to even give the five-year-olds names, we sense she sees the world as an unforgiving place in which it pays not to get too attached to anyone.
Giving a beautifully measured performance, Sandra Bullock excels as a woman who has learnt to rely solely on her survival instincts and pragmatic nature without ever losing her humanity. For his part, Malkovich is brilliantly acerbic and suitably petulant as a glass-half-empty kind of guy for whom the apocalypse serves to prove that his misanthropy was the right choice all along.
As we follow two parallel narratives which take us back and forth between the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic events and a few years into the future, screenwriter Eric Heisserer is able to develop a story which takes into account the effect of the events on his embattled survivors, but only with mixed results.
Bier does an impressive job in offering the apocalypse as a deeply traumatic, claustrophobic and utterly hopeless experience, electing to present a world in which survivors are far more likely to meet a gruesome end at each other’s hands than have to worry about what awaits them outside. But in proffering a decidedly contrived dystopian narrative where each character behaves exactly how you would expect them to, Bird Box fails to bring anything new to the post-apocalyptic genre.