Susanne Bier is a filmmaker with an innate ability to mine the painful truths of the human experience in a way that is both deeply intimate and profoundly universal. And so it is with Bird Box, her first foray into genre filmmaking, that distills the daunting responsibility of parenthood into one woman’s seeming impossible journey of survival in a world overrun by unseeable monsters.
It is similar in that regard to John Krasinksi’s A Quiet Place, and comparisons are unavoidable. Whereas the creatures of Kransinski’s film hunted through sound, meaning survival depended on absolute silence, here the invading entity makes anyone who lays eyes upon it so terrified that they are compelled to suicide. And so it is that, five years after the outbreak, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) finds herself having to navigate herself and her two young children to safety through the deep American woodland – while permanently blindfolded.
As ever, Bullock puts in a committed performance, desperate and determined to keep her kids safe no matter the physical and emotional cost. And if some elements drift towards dystopian cliche – the disparate group of survivors rubbing each other up the wrong way, the panicked runs to find food and supplies – Bullock’s believable everywoman keeps the narrative grounded. She’s also bolstered by a fine cast, which includes John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Trevante Rhodes and Tom Hollander.
Adapting the novel by Josh Malerman, screenwriter Eric Hiesserer has kept the story tight and intimate; save for the opening catastrophic establishing scenes, the focus is squarely on Malorie and her plight. Literally so, as cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s camera hones in on the worry and fear etched across her face. Similarly, Bier eschews traditional horror filmmaking to instead hone in on the human element of this story, laying bare the visceral, struggles of grief, of hope, of parenthood, and the very resonant trials of railing against an enemy that is all around, but that defies all logic.