Doomsday. The End of Days. The Rapture. Whatever name it takes, the dramatization of the moment of reckoning for the human race continues to fuel the film industry without fail. By now, Hollywood has presumably squeezed out every last plotline possible about the world’s demise. Yet, even after 2012 came and went, the end-of-life-as-we-know-it craze persists. Our expectations for films within this genre are understandably low, given the common threads of painfully predictable plotlines, poor action and weak direction found in films like “The Knowing,” “2012” and “This is the End.” However, “Bird Box,” Netflix’s latest apocalyptic flick, is perhaps an outlier within its class. Fresh, thought-provoking and terrifying, through Sandra Bullock’s talent and strategic fiddling with chronology, “Bird Box” offers more than the flame-filled skies, splitting streets and screaming pedestrians that we expect of it.
Cynical loner Malorie (Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”) cannot help but dread the invasion of her solitary lifestyle her progressing pregnancy will inevitably yield. While initially detached from the influx of news of mass suicides occurring overseas, Malorie is thrust into panic when the glazed-eye, suicidal individuals materialize within her town. Somehow escaping the mayhem alive, Malorie and a slew of fellow survivors determine the key to their survival is to blind themselves to the outside world, realizing that through seeing, they will likely meet the same fates as the corpses littering the streets. As tensions build, fears grow and literal darkness ensues, the survivors struggle to maintain their humanity as they adapt, quickly learning their realities will never be the same again.
Though riddled with moments of confusion we manage to follow along (our hearts racing every step of the way) to the end of the film, thanks to Sandra Bullock’s superb acting. Malorie serves as our much-needed guide through the bizarre, post-apocalyptic world that “Bird Box” conjures. Her sturdy, no-bull demeanor produces a character who is consistent and tangible. Viewers, like the terrified characters within the film, are desperate to latch onto something solid amidst the unpredictable and harrowing backdrop of their world — where a tool as essential as eyesight is limited. Along with her firmness, viewers are able to find comfort and solace in the quiet relationship Malorie builds with fellow survivor, Tom (Trevante Rhodes, “Moonlight”). The refreshing thing about this romantic subplot is its subtlety.
Also working in the film’s favor is its usage of time. Two parallel timelines operate to show the present and the past. Viewers begin the movie in a state of utter confusion, following a blindfolded woman and two children down a daunting, gray river. Audiences, drawn in from this point of curiosity, have most of their questions answered in the second timeline, which illustrates flashbacks from six months prior. Our furrowed brows slowly begin to relax as we begin to piece together the intersections between present and past.
While elements like Bullock’s acting chops and the manipulation of time make “Bird Box” an intriguing watch, it should be known that this is not in any way a mild or ‘light’ movie. The sensations we are left with after watching are comparable to those that linger after sitting through an episode of “Black Mirror.” We are impressed and fascinated by the film’s imagination of a reality where sight, a quality that is normally so simply taken for granted, is restricted. At the same time, however, over the course of the film, we develop a sickening twist in our stomachs, nauseated and distressed by the unpleasant nature of humans in crisis. Its intense fear factor aside, “Bird Box” should be praised for its inventiveness. In fact, the film’s simultaneous ability to make us jump with fright and reflect deeply may just be enough to erase the wrongs of its predecessors and redeem the apocalypse genre altogether.