Netflix’ “Bird Box” generally pleases — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a creative and effective apocalyptic horror film. A few reviewers call it a “high-concept” horror movie because of its MacGuffin — an invasion of otherworldly beings causes anyone who looks at them to hallucinate and become suicidally depressed. (A handful of survivors escape the chaotic mass suicides because they are lucky enough not to lay eyes on the mysterious, mind-bending creatures which can become images of their victims’ worst fears.)
It’s a hell of a setup — it reminds many people of this year’s “A Quiet Place” and 2008’s unfairly maligned “The Happening.” (Hey, I really liked that movie.) For some reason, “Bird Box” reminded me of the 1985 “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Need to Know.” (It’s a great ep.) And the plot device pays off — “Bird Box” is genuinely unsettling, and the whole story comes across as a blackly inventive end-of-the-world tale.
Sandra Bullock is good here; supporting actors Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich are even better. (Malkovich is mesmerizing whenever he plays an intense or unpleasant character.)
The film suffers somewhat from puzzling pacing problems — sometimes the story appears to be unfolding too quickly, but by the end of the two-hour movie, it feels too long. “Bird Box” was adapted from a structured 2014 novel by Josh Malerman; I strongly get the sense that it tries to squeeze too much of its source material into a the running time for a movie. I honestly think I would have enjoyed it much more if its frightening plot device and interesting, well-played characters were explored in a mini-series.
There’s another disappointment too — we learn very little about the story’s antagonists, beyond one character’s hypothesis that they’re archetypal punishing figures from a number of the world’s religions. I wanted to know more.