Don’t look

“Wait, where is this surprise party again?”

“Wait, where is this surprise party again?”

Sandra Bullock puts her supreme talents in a Netflix sensation movie that is only half good with Bird Box, a film that feels like a bunch of overused horror gimmicks mashed into one messy entity.

Malorie (Bullock) is a gloomy painter. The film shows Bullock only painting black backgrounds to make her look authentic. She’s dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) tells her to get out of the dumpy-dumps, and takes her to the doctor for a checkup, shortly after seeing a strange report on TV about people killing themselves in Russia.

While visiting with the doc (Parminder Nagra), all hell starts to break loose in the hospital and, even more so, on the streets. It appears as if people are seeing some sort of entity and deciding it’s far too much for them to handle, so they kill themselves in creative ways (stepping in front of buses, bashing heads into windows, walking into fire, etc.). Malorie manages to navigate through a hellish urban landscape, and winds up trapped in a house with a few others.

Until the point where Malorie winds up in the house, the film looks promising. The street suicides scene is genuinely scary, and flash forward scenes show Malorie trying to find some sort of safe haven with two children, all wearing blindfolds to avoid seeing the killer vision. Those scenes work OK as well, although they are very much just a play on last summer’s A Quiet Place, with characters simply not able to see rather than prohibited from making noise.

The movie hits a total dead end once Malorie goes in that house. It’s pretty much the same scenario as that remake of Dawn of the Dead, right down to the pregnant women and shopping scenes.

John Malkovich is one of the house survivors, and he’s just doing a variation on the usual John Malkovich. After witnessing the death of his wife, he just gets Malkovich angry, yelling at Malorie in that deliberate, pause between the words kind of way. ("You … are the reason … she … is dead!")

Seems to me your average male would be curled up in a fetal position in the corner bawling his eyes out after witnessing such a thing as their beloved wife’s demise, but Malkovich just gets pissed Malkovich-style. I was laughing, and I’m quite sure that wasn’t the desired reaction from filmmaker Susanne Bier.

As for the other survivors, there’s the young punk, the female cop, the other pregnant woman, the older mom type, and the Malorie love interest. When Bullock is trading lines with most of these folks, they are clearly and obviously outmatched, especially in some of the moments that seem more improvised. They just shouldn’t be in the same room with Bullock, who is top-notch despite the hackneyed scripting.

The title of the film stands for a shoebox that Malorie keeps birds in as a monster alarm. This, to me, makes no sense. It’s established that if you are outside, and if you look, you will inevitably see “the monster” that will make you off yourself. Why put a bunch of birds through hell? There’s no escaping the monster, who inevitably shows up within seconds of you opening your eyes. A bird chirping is just incidental.

The scenes with Bullock and the children on the river, while not all that original are, nonetheless, riveting and tense. Much of this is due to the excellent child actors, simply named Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). The little expressions they make while Malorie lectures them on how one stupid move could kill them are heartbreaking.

There is one thing totally amazing about Bird Box. BD Wong, who plays one of the house survivors, is 58 years old. The man looks like he’s 35! As for the movie itself, I credit Netflix for doing a great job hyping it and Bullock for acting her ass off even when the material drifts into dreck.