John Krasinski’s breakout sensation of 2018 A Quiet Place created an immersive experience of sensory deprivation, putting us in the middle of a world where an alien species used sound as its primary device to hunt anything that made even the slightest of noises. So, you basically had to walk on tip-toes, making sure that you didn’t break a twig while you did so, or even breathe loudly for that matter. This premise made for an interesting set of rules that the characters had to abide by if they wanted to stay alive. From the perspective of the narrative, it was a breath of fresh when compared to the conventional crop where Manhattan gets decimated by an Alien Spaceship, a template created by H. G. Wells in his story “War of the Worlds” way back in 1897. However, this new brand of sense-deprived thrillers feels far more nuanced and harrowing than the brutish kill or be killed narrative.
Adapted from Josh Malerman’s debut novel by the same name, Bird Box is directed by Susanne Brier and written for the screen by Eric Heisserer. The story revolves around a mother who is on a perilous journey with her two young toddlers while hiding from unseen creatures who have taken over the world. What makes the journey even more impossible is the ability of the creatures to control your brain, making you a neurotic, suicidal maniac who would do anything to get himself killed. The mother, Malorie Hayes, has learned early that in order to survive they would have to keep their eyes covered at all times while outside. She uses aides like fishing rods with their retractable lines to venture out into the world, blind-folded so that she can just follow the lines back to her children. The children have also been taught not to open their blindfolds at any cost. The screenplay follows a non-linear narrative taking us back to the time before the invasion, then to the time right after the invasion, and finally, the present where Malorie is on the run with her children. During her journey, Malorie learns about a safe-haven which can only be reached by a three-day journey on a ravaging river. With two kids on board, and blind to the treacherous twists and turns, Malorie undertakes her toughest test yet.
On the outset, Bird Box feels a lot like Stephen King’s The Mist which was adapted to the big-screen by Frank Darabont who also directed The Shawshank Redemption. The survivors are holed up in a house hiding from an unseen monstrosity outside. They keep hearing terrifying noises and seeing shadows as if a gigantic being was passing by. To avoid catching an unsuspecting glimpse of the thing and turning into suicidal, they board up all the windows and keep their blindfolds at hand. From a captivating first act, however, Bird Box quickly turns to the more conventional tropes that had already been discarded long back by some of the better films in recent times. The dynamics within the hiding-house seem pretentious with everyone trying to help anyone who came knocking at the door while Douglas played by John Malkovich is strictly against it, and for good reason. One of the scenes feels like a poor remake of the birthing scene in A Quiet Place where the then-pregnant Malorie and Olympia (another woman with child) go into labour, while a life-threatening situation develops around them.
The best thing about the film is Sandra Bullock who plays Malorie Hayes. Bullock follows a gradual transformation from a nervous mother to a hardened survivor who is able to protect her kids when the rest of the world has gone to hell.
Bird Box is not without its loopholes too. In scenes where we see Malorie running through a jungle with the creature at her heels, we see the trees parting and yet the creature itself is not visible. So, one can safely say that it is an invisible force. And yet, in the previous scenes throughout the film, giant shadows are seen passing outside the windows. In other scenes, they go out scrounging for food in a car with its windows and windshield completely blacked out, following the GPS and the proximity sensors. Despite technology’s aid, it feels a bit far-out venturing out like that without the creatures attacking you. This inconsistency plagues the entire storyline.
The best thing about the film is Sandra Bullock who plays Malorie Hayes. Bullock follows a gradual transformation from a nervous mother to a hardened survivor who is able to protect her kids when the rest of the world has gone to hell. Her fierce portrayal of Hayes keeps you invested in her journey, and makes you root for her. Bird Box leaves a lot of open ends, perhaps, intentionally keeping the way open for a sequel. In another universe, it could be an extension of the Cloverfield series. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see what comes next for Malorie.