Well, my favorite genre of film is the post-apocalyptic movie where the survivors have to find supplies and adapt to the new normal. My favorite is Will Smith in I Am Legend with the run of New York, but of course the Mad Max movies define the genre and Fury Road is a masterpiece. Bird Box is one of the best and is certainly unique enough to stand out.
A wave of mass suicides makes its way from Russia to the U.S. There is something in the sky and if anyone looks at it, they kill themselves. Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is on the street when it happens and manages to look down and get into Douglas (John Malkovich)’s house along with other strangers like Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Cheryl (Jacki Weaver), Lucy (Rosa Salazar), Geg (BD Wong), Felix (Machine Gun Kelly) and Charlie (Lil Rel Howery). Douglas isn’t especially happy to host, especially since his wife went outside and looked up.
The opening chaos seen from the ground is striking. When people start killing themselves, it becomes especially chaotic. Considering how many are driving cars or operating heavy machinery. On an personal level, there are graphic details to individual suicides.
Along with the usual in fighting among survivors, the group in the house have to learn the rules of this deadly entity. This is quite a thing to avoid. So you cover the windows, fine, but you’re only going to last so long inside. Eventually they figure out ways to leave the house and drive with no windows. It’s like how A Quiet Place found ways to live without making sound. Bird Box finds ways to live without looking, so it’s A Not Looking Place.
For example, a parallel story shows us five years into this apocalypse, Malorie has to paddle two children (Viven Lyra Blair and Julian Edwards) down a river to a potential safe place. She keeps the kids blindfolded so they don’t look, and Malorie has to stay blindfolded too. So sailing a river blind, that’s the new normal.
We never see the thing that makes people crazy. That’s smart. Nothing could be as frightening as the unknown. Plus, we don’t want to die, so how could we the audience look at the thing the characters can’t look at.
What’s always fascinating about post-apocalyptic movies is the adaptation. In Mad Max they adapt with powerful vehicles. In zombie apocalypses they adapt by making barricades. In this one they have to find ways to get around without seeing. They hang strings to follow. Fishing line comes in extra handy.
It’s lots of problem solving. We can’t look so what can we do? We do get to see more than they do so we’re seeing what they’re navigating through. But it uses technology to create suspense by indicating things they’re not seeing. Of course problems that would normally be easy are major when you can’t look. The supply run is even sweeter in Bird Box because they can’t see where they’re going.
We also get to see the world where people who’ve seen it haven’t killed themselves. So there’s more to long term exposure. We do learn what kind of people have a different reaction to looking. It’s still not good.
Cinema often makes the mistake of showing too much because it can. Bird Box is the ultimate exercise in using visual storytelling to convey as much as possible by hiding it out of the character’s view.