Bird Box and the Lost Art of Linear Storytelling

Bird Box, Susanne Bier’s adaptation of a 2014 post-apocalyptic novel, is a good movie needlessly chopped up to appear more profound via non-linear storytelling. Sandra Bullock is at her best in eight years as mother of the future and pregnant lady of the past, and she’s surrounded by a terrific cast of character actors like John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Trevante Rhodes, and Jackie Weaver. End-of-the-world norms abound like evil entities bent on destroying her film, but Bier is smart to lean into relationships over mythological revelations. The best parts involve the diverse cast getting to snarl and tease at one another as they’re holed up in a tidy McMansion in Southern California. This is where the likes of Tom Hollander, Rosa Salazar, and even Machine Gun Kelly enter the already bustling ensemble. Danielle MacDonald proves Dumplin’ may have been a fluke with a much better turn as another pregnant lady rescued from the outside world by these inhabitants, even if her character is yet another simpleton.

The worst parts involve a present day journey of Bullock and two children down a river for some unknown utopia of safety and good company. You know the place, always slightly hidden and uncommonly peaceful, and clearly every director’s favorite deus ex machina. These interruptions from the infinitely more fascinating ensemble would be perfectly fine if the story were told in linear fashion. Jumping between past and present, the non-linear structure only creates remove, distancing us from Bullock’s arc instead of allowing us to follow her from one point to the next. Bier’s film is the rare but increasingly common case of a story better served by a more straight-forward approach. There are no plot turns gained here from taking inspiration from Nolan or other modern filmmakers that have made it their signature. However annoying the jump-cut narrative might be, in the end this end-of-times thriller mostly succeeds on the backs of performers like Bullock, full of pathos, or Malkovich, full of piss and venom. Bird Box is enthralling enough for your post-Christmas downtime.

Grade: B-

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