A Quiet Place gave us a tension machine with a tender mien, wherein a heroic deaf girl might not hear the sounds she’s making on which hungry creatures would seize and feast.
Bird Box — in which Sandra Bullock and the year’s most wasted ensemble must cover their eyes to avert creatures that induce suicide when their gaze is met — skips right past blind and heads straight to dumb. (Case in point: There’s a credited creature designer and unless a creature was shown in a moment that I tried to wipe the stupid from my eyes, there are no creatures explicitly shown.)
Its badness shining Bright as it were, Bird Box represents Netflix’s second straight late-December dud with a big star at the front of a high-concept science-fiction premise. “It’s gonna be rough and it’s gonna feel like it’s going on for a long time,” barks Bullock during one of the initial snippets of dialogue. She’s not only running down the rules of Bird Box for the people at home still mixing their popcorn and candy before settling in on the couch (although Bird Box is, like most big-push Netflix original films, opening locally tonight at the Landmark Glendale 12). She’s being brutally forthright about what awaits. Maybe you’re better off just spinning up The Great British Baking Show from the jump again.
Bullock plays Malorie Shannon, a pregnant artist about to have her deadbeat boyfriend’s baby. The only thing more belabored than Malorie’s uterus? Bird Box’s metaphor about her paintings that emphasize a lack of connection when she is, herself, a shut-in misanthrope. She also seems oblivious to a worldwide epidemic of inexplicable suicides that began in Eastern Europe and hop-skipped its way to Russia. (“Well, it’s in Russia,” she quips while a TV news graphic illustrates how close that really is to Anchorage.)
Even on the obstetrician’s table, Malorie cracks wise about how poor a parent she’ll be. (Parminder Nagra plays her doctor, willing to put up with only so much infantile shit from a woman about to birth an infant.)
It seems a sort of fiercely unsentimental end-of-the-world story is about to take hold — befitting of Danish director Suzanne Bier’s realist style and screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s ability to ground such concepts in truthful … oh, shit. Wait. What? Did Malorie just instantaneously intuit that “whatever’s happening is now here” when she sees a woman ram her face into the window of the hospital’s skywalk? Yeah. Forget any of this working at any level whatsoever. Within seconds, Bird Box turns into the Canadian TV knockoff of World War Z that SyFy would pick up and air only at 10 p.m. on Saturday nights.
Malorie barely survives an ensuing melee, finding shelter amid a Shyamalanian catch-all of character actors. There’s Rosa Salazar as a no-nonsense cop and rapper-actor Machine Gun Kelly as the profane pill-popper who says “We are so fucking fucked” twice, ogles the cop, gets rebuffed, consensually bones her standing up five minutes later, and then leaves with her — neither of them to be seen again.
Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$) plays another pregnant woman. BD Wong is an architect with whom John Malkovich’s curmudgeonly lawyer has a zoning dispute. Jacki Weaver plays the token elder stateswoman. Lil Rel Howery is a sage supermarket employee who rattles off the Wikipedia-entry dialogue that explains these creatures as angels manifesting their victims’ worst sadnesses and fears. Meanwhile, Trevante Rhodes, as a kindly construction worker, finds himself still incapable of converting Moonlight into anything meaningful after 12 Strong, The Predator and now this.
OK. I buried the lede on this a bit. God Malkovich is here. You think that makes Bird Box worth your time for morbid enjoyment, but the movie minimizes Malkovich’s multisyllabic megalomaniac who says — with all seriousness — that he wants to “make the end of the world great again.” Malkovich barks like a big boss throughout this terrible movie because if anyone can smell a turd in need of a polish, it’s Malkovich. To save you time, here are all the highlights from his GOP dick-wipe character:
- “Bankruptcy,” he snarls as a single-word answer to the question of his law specialty.
- “In the end, there are only two types of people — assholes and the dead,” he quips to Bullock during a scene of detente.
- “New guy, you had a great visit! We really loved meeting you! Now, fuck off!” he yells at a nervous newbie played by Tom Hollander, who he suspects may be an acolyte assisting the angels on their mission of purifying the planet.
There is also this amazing still shot. ¡Viva Malkovich!
Save a reasonably suspenseful scene at the midpoint, Bird Box is a jacuzzi-fart indulgence of the same mealy-mouthed, meat-headed morality debates about the world’s end that you’d find in any given terrible season of The Walking Dead. All of it leads to a downriver journey with perhaps the most groan-inducing ending of a film like this since Downsizing. There is no turn too predictable. No digital squelch knob left un-cranked by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who deliver a truly embarrassing musical score that, in its more tuneful moments, resembles that ambient noise under the movie-theater PSA to silence your phones. No reason to watch.