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‘Bird Box’ robs itself of greatness

The Art of Nerding Out

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“Bird Box” has produced a lot of buzz. It has inspired everything from a challenge for people to do everyday activities blindfolded to memes covering subjects ranging from anti-vaxxer parents to the Chicago Bears kicker missing a playoff game-winning field goal. My interest piqued, I checked it out.

Having seen it, I have this to say: It’s certainly two hours of movie.

That’s about the size of it. It has some good scenes. It has some lame scenes. It has some good, tense moments and some story beats you can see blindfolded. It takes a fascinating premise and structures it in a way that ruins a lot of the tension.

Based on a novel by Josh Malerman, “Bird Box” stars Sandra Bullock as Malorie, a desperate mother trying to guide herself and two children to a sanctuary where they can be safe from some mysterious danger. Jump to five years earlier where a pregnant Malorie finds her world besieged by some malevolent supernatural force that causes people who look at it to kill themselves.

The movie spends the second act jumping between current time, with Malorie and the kids trying to navigate their way down a wild river, and five years ago, with Malorie falling in with a group of survivors and learning the rules about whatever it is that’s coercing them. That’s basically the whole movie.

Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Julian Edwards, and Vivien Lyra Blair in ‘Bird Box.’ | Netflix

Every good element is canceled out by some kind of flaw. For instance, the acting is excellent, especially for a horror/suspense flick like this. Bullock is reliably great as a woman who has grown to be tough to survive. Her performance is the main reason “Bird Box” holds together as well as it does.

But Bullock’s work is undercut by the structure of the story. The way the film is set up, we can guess the fates of most of the characters we’ll meet. That robs the story of drama and leaves Bullock a point of stability in the midst of a chaotic mess.

Another highlight of “Bird Box” is the premise. The idea that some evil force could drive you to self-harm just by looking at it is intriguing, and the way you never really see said evil force forces you create what the characters might be seeing in your own mind. That’s an unsettlingly effective way to handle the “monsters” in this movie.

Yet, instead of digging into the idea of how what you see can destroy you, the middle of this movie follows the standard horror movie path where the characters get picked off one by one. At least, that’s how it goes until it’s time to really get the narrative movie. Then the film clears the decks with a scene of mass slaughter that unfolds in an entirely predictable manner.

And so it goes, with good the elements of “Bird Box” being balanced out by serious flaws. Some good work from the supporting cast, especially John Malkovich and Trevante Rhoads, gets offset by writing that forces characters into making spectacularly dumb decisions. The title of the movie ties into the story in a pretty cool way, but the movie ends with a twist that’s just a little too cute for its own good. You get the picture.

Ultimately, “Bird Box” feels like the very definition of a “meh” movie. I’m glad I watched it (mainly because now I’ll get all the memes), though I wouldn’t be interested in seeing it again. It’s not great, but it’s not as bad as other Netflix offerings, like “Bright.” Bottom line, it’s a perfectly fine source for two hours of background noise.

“Bird Box” is available to stream on Netflix.

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