Sandra Bullock has seldom seemed so forbidding. "If you look, you will die," she barks at two blinking, fearful small children. In this exciting adaptation of Josh Malerman's dystopian novel, Bullock plays Mallory, a woman who is already juggling dark humour and mixed feeling about her pregnancy when strange news stories emerge from Siberia and Romania. Some unseen, inexplicable thing is causing people to kill themselves and others.
It does not take long for this unknowable terror to spill on to the streets where Mallory and her caring sister (Sarah Paulson) live. She finds refuge with a mismatched bunch of survivors, essayed by top-notch screen favourites. John Malkovich is the paranoid one; Jacki Weaver is the maternal one; Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes is the kindly one, Danielle MacDonald of Patti Cake$ is the soft one. Together they make for a compelling, nervy chamber piece.
As chronologically shuffling Bird Box opens, five years have passed, and Mallory and the two children are the only survivors. They have little option but to brave the outside world and make their way to what they hope is safety. The dangerous journey requires them to be blindfolded as anyone who looks at whatever ill-defined beasts that now roam the earth, will succumb to madness.
This year began with considerable fretting over Alex Garland's Annihilation premiering on Netflix and closes with another starry, female-led science fiction feature dropping as an exclusive with the streaming giant. Bird Box may be a nest of familiar apocalyptic tropes, but with an excellent ensemble, a haunting score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Academy Award winning director Susanne Bier at the helm, it rarely feels like every other societal collapse picture.
Together, Bier and Bullock have created a challenging depiction of motherhood; tellingly, Mallory refers to her children as "Boy" and "Girl". It's a compelling idea that stays with the viewer long after the genre trappings.
The writer is a film critic
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