Bird Box film review: Sandra Bullock shines in Susanne Bier’s post-apocalypse

Sandra Bullock leads a starry cast terrified of an outside threat in the film of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box

A disaster film that takes itself seriously sounds like a recipe for… disaster. Yet Susanne Bier’s Bird Box manages to avoid the expected pitfalls of boredom and ridicule by centring firmly on its main character, Malorie. The role sees Sandra Bullock do what she does best: put up with the people around her without a smile on her face. Across her career, she has often played brutally honest characters whose patience is easily shot, and who would only engage in small talk if the circumstances absolutely called for it. When a presence outside pushes everyone who sees it to commit suicide, Malorie has no choice but to barricade herself in the first house that she sees — and to live with people she would otherwise never have spoken to.

The film subtly brings out the existential contradictions of this situation: all the characters find themselves torn between the selfishness of survival, and the moral duty to maintain a humane society. But Malorie is the most conflicted: although she is brave and a loner, she is fair and kind. She is also pregnant, a living embodiment of care, if a reluctant one. Bullock excels at portraying this conflicted woman’s every nuanced and conflicting desires, and her deeply affecting performance helps make Malorie’s arc as a mother more about opening up to love, than about conforming to a social role.

The film’s editing in fact highlights Malorie’s physical strength throughout — she isn’t a conventional mother. Bird Box jumps in time between the outset of the catastrophe; five years later; and a little after that, when Malorie and two children are going down a tumultuous river while blindfolded. This smart structure, teasing the audience with the mystery of that dangerous trip, helps Bird Box maintain a dynamic momentum. So do the film’s moments of gore: Bier’s realist approach to the many violent deaths Malorie witnesses makes the film much more gripping than most post-apocalyptic fare. Bird Box will creep under your skin without you noticing.

BIRD BOX will launch globally on Netflix on December 21 and in select cinemas from December 13.