When we first meet Malorie (Sandra Bullock), she is sternly briefing two young children—referred to only as Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards)—on their upcoming sojourn. Keep your blindfolds on, or you will die. Stay with me no matter what, or you will die. Do exactly what I tell you to do, or you will die. It’s a Mommy pep talk! Then she shoves three live parakeets into a box (and here you thought the title was just a metaphor) and the three humans, all blindfolded, stumble out of their cabin down to the river shore and set themselves adrift in a rowboat, blindly following the current downstream.
It’s always fun to jump into a story in the middle; it’s an attempt to give the viewer that same sense of disorientation as the characters—what the hell is going on and why is this happening? Fortunately, Danish director Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on the 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, then rewinds five years, where we meet a slightly less tense Malorie—pregnant and not too thrilled about it—and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson), the voice of reason who drags Malorie to inconveniences like ultrasounds. This is when the world begins to unravel, and for the rest of the film we cut back and forth from the dawn of the apocalypse to the river trip of the present.
Post-apocalyptic shows don’t always clue us in as to the nature of the world’s collapse. We might assume it was a nuclear war or an alien invasion, but we aren’t allowed to witness the initial chaos. Bird Box takes us there, as we see the first inklings of something going wrong in the world, through a very fast-moving disintegration of society, and into that favorite trope of thrillers: the small band of survivors (played by diverse actors like John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes and BD Wong) who are barricaded together and whose skills, personalities, fears and prejudices will drive the plot as they work together (or not) to ride out the cataclysm.
Bird Box isn’t great, but Bullock, as usual, gives a solid, relatable performance. Bier’s controversial choice not to show us the monsters, leaving us in the dark like those poor birds (see, it is a metaphor!), is a good one. Bird Box is not a perfect horror thriller, but you could do worse. Or you could die.