Monday, December 24, 2018

Susanne Bier's sci-fi thriller, BIRD BOX, proves one of this lauded Danish director's best yet

Despite Susanne Bier's BFLF Oscar for In a Better World, along with some other awards throughout her career, I have been at best lukewarm to her work, finding her films, which generally deal with important human relationships above all else, too full of coincidence, manipulation and sentimentality to deserve our credence. Then last year I saw the British/US-produced cable series The Night Manager and found it surprisingly well done, melding those vital human relationships into a theme of international arms trading/spying.

Now comes the new Netflix-released movie BIRD BOX, a kind of sci-fi survival thriller that is a fine enough example of genre filmmaking that it occurs to TrustMovies that either Ms Bier's real strength may lie in the genre area, where coincidence, manipulation and sentimentality are more accepted, even perhaps expected, or -- since Bier (shown at right) is much more of a director than a writer and depends more often on the work of others in the writing capacity -- that both The Night Manager and Bird Box succeed as much on the strength of their screenplays as on the direction. (Bird Box was written by Eric Heisserer, based on the novel by Josh Malerman, while The Night Manager is credited to David Farr, based on the novel by John le Carré.)

Either way, Bird Box proves a riveting, surprising and emotionally gripping experience, as it moves back and forth in time, showing us what has happened to lead up to what is taking place right now. The movie posits that something, perhaps an alien force, is causing humanity worldwide to commit mass suicide. While watching, you may be put in mind of a much lesser film, M. Night Shayamalan's The Happening, and also of another sci-fi-thriller that opened earlier this year, A Quiet Place.

In the latter film, the aliens seemed to have next-to-nothing eyesight but wildly acute hearing capabilities, so the protagonists have to make no noise. In Bird Box, the suicides appear to be caused by actually viewing the alien force, and so the few survivors have learned, when out and about, they'd better cover their eyes. How Bier and her screenwriter bring this all to life works remarkably well, and how the tale is carried through to conclusion provides plenty of suspense, surprise and loss -- that last regarding characters we've come to understand and care for about as much and as well as any film in this genre I can readily recall.

In the leading role of a woman hurt by life and so recoiling from it, Sandra Bullock (above, left) gets a role she is perfect for and runs with it like the pro she usually is. The two children she is caring for are played -- by Vivien Lyra Blair and Julian Edwards -- very well, too -- while the well-chosen supporting cast includes first-rate actors like John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson (above, right), Tom Hollander and Danielle Macdonald (below).

Worth special note is the performance from Trevante Rhodes (below, left and recently seen as the third iteration of the hero of Moonlight), playing the fellow who proves most capable of bringing Bullock's character out of her shell. Rhodes' work here proves that Moonlight (along with the several other films in which the actor has appeared) was no fluke.

Aside from being a good story well told, Bird Box almost works as well on a deeper, more profound level as an exploration of humanity in all its foibles and strengths. I say almost because, for me, it did not quite have the heft or depth necessary, though it occasionally came close. For you, it might be quite another story. In either case, the movie --  from Netflix and streaming now -- is definitely worth seeing.

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