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Bird Box

Year: 2018
Studio: Netflix
Director: Susanne Bier
Writer: Eric Heisserer/Josh Malerman
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar

This movie had a moment of cultural cachet that far outweighed any kind of innovation in the story on screen. For five white hot minutes we heard about idiots taking the Bird Box challenge and putting blindfolds on to cross the street or drive to the mall (to the extent Netflix issued a statement saying they shouldn't) before we all moved onto the next meme.

That makes it sound like the movie was rubbish, and it's not. But after A Quiet Place, Annihilation, Silence and a recent plethora of other alien/monster invasion movies where they might leave you alone if only you can't see/hear them (or them you), it needed something a bit more distinctive to stand out.

At least the structure is somewhat interesting. We meet Malorie (Sandra Bullock) bedraggled, already blindfolded and with two young kids in tow, making her way through a forest towards a stream. There's a canoe waiting for them, and her walkie talkie has picked up a signal from a community of survivors upriver so she's determined to stay out of the way of the as-yet unseen threat and reach them.

How, you wonder, is a 90 minute movie going to deal with a woman and two kids hiding under a blanket paddling down a river?

But then we're transported back a few months where Malorie is a shut-in artist who's expecting a baby – and is terrified about it – before the world has fallen apart and is finally convinced by her more outgoing sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) to get out for awhile.

The rest of the movie unspools by cutting back and forth between the aftermath and the survival mission, showing us what happened to lead Malorie to where we met her while it also tracks her progress down the river to salvation.

Like in The Happening, there's some ill-defined threat in the air that's driving people to mass suicide. Jessica and Malorie see on the news that it's been happening in Europe and Russia, and people are wary it might start in America.

A routine hospital visit to check the baby ends in tragedy when the mystery affliction strikes and people around them start going bonkers and killing themselves in a variety of bizarre and violent ways. It's when they're driving home through the carnage that it seems to grip Jessica, and after apparently seeing someone in the sky they both know that causes her extreme emotional duress, she flips the car over, killing herself.

Malorie staggers free and makes desperately for a nearby house where several others are already holed up and which she hopes will offer temporary protection.

While the group tries not to fall out over their various personal foibles, get themselves killed as they go for supplies, etc, their numbers are added to and depleted through various happenstance, and you can start to see the story take shape that leads to Malorie bringing the two kids, their eyes carefully shielded, to the river's edge.

There are shades of all the films mentioned above as well as The Mist, The Fog and plenty of others and yes, it is adapted from a novel (although not one by Stephen King, who it feels like the original writer was emulating) by Arrival writer Eric Heiserrer.

But director Susanne Bier didn't want to make a monster movie because like other recent efforts there are no monsters, just small eddies of leaves in the wind moving ominously towards their victims.

There's probably a subtext about being blind to the problems of the world until they come home to roost or something similar, but it's not really about that either. It's just a story about how you'd get by when the monsters can get you if you look at them, and a character dynamic study straight out of the end-of-the-world playbook.

It's unfair to call it a gimmick in search of a story because it's interesting enough to entertain you while it's playing, but you've seen the parts that make up the whole a hundred times before.

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