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Movie Review

She calls them Boy and Girl.

Names are a luxury in a world gone mad. Malory knows they could die any day, any moment. No point following cultural norms or social niceties in a land of unseen horror. Joy and hope are a relic. It's eat or be eaten. Kill … or kill yourself.

Malory remembers when the world was as it should be, just five short years ago. Oh, there were problems, sure. Malory, an artist back then, lived like a hermit—painting her artwork in solitude, her only point of human contact being her brusque but loving sister, Jessica.

And Malory knew she'd have to expand her social network by one. She was pregnant then—the byproduct of an ill-advised and ever-so-short relationship. Malory tries to ignore the growing life in her, calling her pregnancy a "condition" and the creature inside a "little bean."

"You can't just ignore it and hope it goes away," her doctor tells Malory, giving her a pamphlet on adoption.

Thoughts of adoption, however, vanished minutes later, along with the world's collective sanity.

On the way out, Malory watched as a woman rammed her head into a reinforced glass window again and again—spiderweb cracks spreading underneath the growing blot of blood. Outside, the chaos crescendoed. Cars rammed each other. Instead of running away from flames, some walked into them. And then, Malory's sister went mad as well: After driving helter-skelter through the streets she suddenly stopped her SUV, walked into the street and stepped in front of a racing dump truck.

Malory found safety with a handful of others in a nearby house. Together, the survivors pieced together a few critical bits of information. The planet had been invaded. But the invaders don't attack physically: Just looking at them was something deadly: Most victims will kill themselves as quickly as possible. The very few who survive that initial glance seem enthralled by the creatures. Beautiful, they call them, as if they were angels. And compulsively, they seek to show others that beauty—ripping off blindfolds, forcing their eyes open.

So many have died since she hid in that house five years ago. Now she feels wholly alone—just her and two children, Boy and Girl. Food is dwindling. Nearby houses have been picked clean. And enthralled human marauders circle ever closer.

But Malory's heard of a place downstream—a walled refuge from the terror. All they have to do is take a boat and ride the current down, down toward the sound of birds.

She'll just have to make the journey blindfolded. With two kids in tow. And somehow, they'll have to figure out how to navigate the rapids—impossible to get through, she's told, without seeing them.

Someone will have to open their eyes.

Positive Elements

Malory is a fierce and dutiful mother, if not particularly affectionate. "Every single decision I have made has been for them!" She yells at her lover, Tom. "Every single one!" And we have no doubt that it's true.

But Tom counters that being a mom means more than just protecting her kids: It means loving them, inspiring them and giving them a little hope—even in the worst of circumstances. On a gut level, that's really what Bird Box is about: To explore what it means to live and love and be human when circumstances seek to strip away that humanity with every step.

Bird Box—much of which is told in an extended flashback to Malory's time in the house—forces its characters into plenty of difficult situations, where people must choose between showing a little mercy and solely seeking self-preservation. And honestly, the merciful choice doesn't always end positively. But even when it doesn't, the movie hints that, maybe, it's still the right choice: To err in favor of helping others is how we stay human. We may not always live as long in a terrible world, it suggests, but we're more likely to live a life worth living. It's a lesson that Malory eventually learns as well. We also see acts of self-sacrifice from others, too.

Spiritual Content

The creatures in Bird Box are very different than most alien invaders. They don't seem to be after food or resources or domination: Their attacks are of the mind, not body. The creatures' victims sometimes seem to see and hear people who they lost long before. As such, the attacks feel almost spiritual.

That's not lost on Charlie, one of the survivors locked in the house with Malory. The fledgling novelist suggests the attackers are demons. He launches into a laundry list of worldwide myths and legends about such creatures that kill through thoughts of fear and loss. And he tells his listeners that perhaps the world is in its "end game. Humanity has been judged and we've been found wanting."

Interestingly, the humans who fall under the thrall of these dark denizens do not treat them as demons, but angelic rescuers—beautiful and divine and worth serving. "It will cleanse the world," one man insists.

One of the people in the house makes a reference to hell. Someone says "thank you Lord Jesus" with some sincerity, and we see a church in the background.

Sexual Content

In the house, Malory walks in on two people having sex in the laundry room. They're both completely naked (though critical parts are shielded from view): We see sexual movements briefly before an embarrassed Malory walks away. "That's something you can't unsee," a knowing Tom tells Malory, and he's absolutely right.

Mallory and Tom fall in love and become a couple. (They're unwed, but given the obvious scarcity of priests, we can't speak to whether they'd like to make it official or not.) We see the two kiss and (briefly) begin to have sex: We see Tom's bare torso once or twice, and Malory wears a silky nightgown one night.

Some bare pregnant bellies are seen on occasion. We learn that the man who owns the house/refuge has a husband (who wasn't, apparently, at home). Tom, who's a bit younger than Malory, flirts with her, saying that it would've been nice if they could've met earlier. Malory, acknowledging their age difference, quips, "I could've been your babysitter." "My hot babysitter," Tom counters. Douglas, one of the survivors staying in the home, has been married three times. A woman wears a revealing top.

Violent Content

When Jessica walks head-on into that dump truck, we see the impact—body and blood mixed before the truck speeds off camera. Also, as mentioned, a woman smashes her head into a glass window over and over.

Someone stabs herself in the throat repeatedly. A man tied to a chair manages to tip himself over and smash his head in (off camera). He's found dead, blood pooling on the floor from his unseen wound. Someone leaps from a window and falls to her death. Someone else walks calmly into a car engulfed in flames and sits down in the driver's seat before the vehicle blows up. Cars careen into each other. People shoot themselves. We hear about other apparent suicides, and we learn that before the violence hit North America, tens of thousands of people had died overseas.

Bird Box's violence isn't just sequestered to suicides, though. One man is stabbed repeatedly in the chest with a pair of scissors, blood pouring from the wound. Several are shot via revolvers, rifles and shot guns, and many die that way. A guy is hacked with a machete: The wounds don't immediately kill him, and he sinks in a river to apparently drown. A man attacks someone enthralled by the creatures in order to save his friends—pushing him through a door and off camera. We later see blood flow from underneath the door, confirming a fatality.

Characters (using detailed GPS) drive a car with blacked-out windows through some suburban streets littered with debris and bodies: We hear the tires crunch the head of a corpse. ("Just a speed bump," Tom says, though everyone knows it's not true.) Untended corpses litter several other scenes, too. We witness scenes of chaos and carnage on the news. A boat overturns, sending people into cold, rushing water. Guns are pointed. People are threatened. Someone gets knocked unconscious with a vase. Two women go into painful labor at the same time. Malory threatens to "hurt" her kids if they disobey her during a dangerous trip.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear at least 42 f-words and about 17 s-words. Other profanities include "a--," "b--ch," "d--n" and "pr--k." God's name is misused about 15 times, about a third of those with the word "d--n." Jesus' name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Before the incident, Jessica and a pregnant Malory talk—in front of Malory's obstetrician—about ordering and finishing a bottle of wine. They never make that appointment, but later, a still pregnant Malory does sip a little whiskey.

During a supply run, one of the house's inhabitants—a next-door neighbor named Douglas—heads straight for the liquor aisle. "This is truly the happiest place on earth," he says, as he drinks straight from a liquor bottle. He brings home plenty of booze, and we see him imbibe a lot of it.

Other Negative Elements

Douglas is a jerk. He'll own up to it, too, but he says that in this new world, his aggressive selfishness only makes sense: "Only two types of people," he tells Malory. "The a--holes and the dead." We see him make self-serving decisions, berate others for inconveniencing his own well-being and happiness, and he strongly encourages others to do the same—sometimes even threatening them. He's not alone, by the way. Two other house inhabitants commit a deeply selfish act that threatens the rest.

Malory vomits in a toilet. She can come across as a pretty unloving mom, too—her detachment and aggression, of course, the product of desperation and fear.

Conclusion

There's an old cliché about nothing being stronger than a mother's love. And lots of times, that's true. But not every mother's love is gentle.

Malory says she was "raised by wolves," under the strict, demanding hand of her father. Given her upbringing, she never wanted to be a mother. Now she is, and she takes her responsibilities—or what she sees as her responsibilities—very seriously.

But she's missing something.

"Life is more than what is," Tom tells her. "It's what it could be. You need to promise them dreams that might never come true. You need to love them, knowing that you could lose them at any second."

Malory's so wrapped up in surviving the present that she forgets to give her children hope for the future. I think there's an intentional real-world echo to be found in that.. . Hope and love—these are the things that life is built from, Bird Box tells us. Without it, we live in fear and despair, if we live at all.

Such is the movie's message, and it's a good one as far as it goes. But the story itself travels rough roads getting there. And while it's hard to find a pretty vision of the "end of the world" in movies, this can feel particularly bleak and violent.

It gives me an even greater appreciation of A Quiet Place—a similar movie released, like Bird Box, in 2018. There, humanity also has been largely destroyed by unknown visitors—one where sound, not sight, is the killer. Again, we see a strong mother willing to do whatever she can to save her children, (including the unborn one she carries). But A Quiet Place tells its story with more power and less content, settling into theaters with (an admittedly caveat-filled) PG-13 and becoming a surprise awards-season contender.

Bird Box won't be up for any awards, most likely, and it's R all the way. It didn't need to be. Its good messages are undermined by its sex, language and brutality. And like its beleaguered characters, I wonder whether a blindfold might be in order.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Sandra Bullock as Malorie; Trevante Rhodes as Tom; John Malkovich as Douglas; Sarah Paulson as Jessica; Jacki Weaver as Cheryl; Rosa Salazar as Lucy; Danielle Macdonald as Olympia; Lil Rel Howery as Charlie; Tom Hollander as Gary; Machine Gun Kelly as Felix; BD Wong as Greg; Pruitt Taylor Vince as Rick; Vivien Lyra Blair as Girl; Julian Edwards as Boy

Director

Susanne Bier ( )

Distributor

Netflix

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 13, 2018

On Video

December 21, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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