Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Watch on Netflix: Bird Box (2018)

2018 has given us quite a few reasons to believe that women can do more in Hollywood than what they’ve been regulated to do. Similar to the science-fiction film Annihilation (romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, crime-drama Widows - to name a few) released earlier this year, Bird Box is another example of an unexpected film telling a different kind of story than the ones we’re always to used to: female roles can be complex, actresses don’t have to stick a certain genre, and men can be more than be the only strong character.

Based on the book by Josh Mallerman (which I’m anxiously reading right now), a mysterious virus triggers people into killing themselves and sparks an international apocalypse. Mallory, an artistic hermit who is not prepare to give birth to her child let alone the end of the world, must fight to step outside of her shell in order to survive. Forced to live alongside fellow survivors – an Army vet Tom (Trevant Rhodes), an MAGA conspiratorial Douglas (John Malkovich), a young and naive pregnant woman Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) - she has to remain guarded enough to stay alive but also not lose all hope in humanity.

Bird Box is pretty much Bullock’s show from beginning to end. Though Bullock has stepped out of the romantic comedy box before with Crash and Gravity, it’s again refreshing to see the level of commitment that she has for this. As Mallory, her harsh direct nature from strangers to even those who are closest to her is enough to catch you off guard. When she opens herself up to those around her, especially Tom, it’s endearing to see her vulnerable and taking chances emotionally (though I’ve read this is different in the book). Before and after the apocalypse strikes, an endangering sense of loneliness separates Mallory from other survivors. Though shutting herself in from the outside world might’ve been a defense mechanism that suited her well, being forced to shut-out the outside world and connect with the only other people alive leaves her dealing with her lack of connection to others.  Instead of just being her own island, she has to learn to welcome wanted and unwanted visitors in her quest for survival –where Douglas might use his fear-mongering to shut people down, Mallory speaks up; when Tom reaches out to her, knowing she can protect herself and can use help being protected, Mallory begins to trust him and they find a sense of normalcy again in a dog-eat-dog world. Her journey of learning how to survive not just for herself but with and for others is nothing short of bad-ass.

Even though the film stars Bullock, and that should be enough of a reason to at least check it out, Bird Box still contains elements of surprise by how complex the story and its heroine would go to be more than an one-note horror flick. While Bullock is able to defy expectations of what we see of her and what female characters are capable of, Rhodes is also equally given an opportunity to shine. As much as Mallory prefers to be her own island, it’s proven time and time again that some of the best movies let characters of all genders can bring out the best and worst in each other. Loosely following in the footsteps of other great post-apocalypse films like Mad Max Fury Road’s Furiosa and Max, neither Mallory or Tom shoulder too much of the story’s weight to fill out the so-called traits of what’s needed to be a typical strong male or female characters; they both have their moments and space to be their own individuals as well as partners-in-survival. And their well-rounded characters bring out good roles by both of the leads.

As much as Bird Box stands on its own with its compelling performances and thrilling worldbuilding, the story shares a few similar elements from other films that's not hard to miss: M. Night Shamalyan’s The Happening where unidentifiable airborne virus formulated by nature causes people to kill themselves; A Quiet Place focusing on a survivor’s sense of hearing in order to survive or die (Bird Box uses sight instead); and in Blindness, a female protagonist navigates the downfall of humanity when the entire world has goes blind except for her. Bird Box takes each of these films’ ingredients – the virus to commit suicide, the delicate sense of sight, the strength and weaknesses of humanity – and improves on the intrigue of what these things can do to people in a post-apocalypse. Ironically, similar to these other films, the only subtle downfall of Bird Box is that the script occasionally suffers from weak one-liners and predictable tropes. For the most part they are easily masked by the actors and direction, but at times, they can feel a little too B-rated against the rest of film's A+ atmosphere. While the similarities didn’t deter or ruin the experience for me, or make me feel like this was trying to be a strict female-remake, the close proximity of these stories might make it difficult to separate the films.

Directed by Susanne Bier, Bird Box is by far one of the best films Netflix has produced. From the story to the production design, the film feels like an apocalyptic nightmare. Though the virus for the most part is a seemingly invisible creature that does to afternoon breezes with birds chirping what Jaws did to swimming in the ocean, Bier’s direction always makes you feel like those monsters are right outside Mallory's side. The story does this well by not only chucking different personalities and temperaments together in an isolated house, but also setting up more odds against their survival from characters who don’t kill themselves after seeing the creature and instead goes crazy, and characters eventually having to get creative to go outside for supply runs and finding a safe sanctuary. Not only does Mallory deal with her own emotional conflicts, there’s a real race against the elements both natural and human that truly creates some heart-pounding thrills and an overall horror film that stands out against the blur of binge-watching streamable films these days.

 Rating: ★★1/2☆
Have you seen Bird Box? What did you think?

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