Dir: Susanne Bier | Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Sarak Paulson, Travante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver | Sci-fi thriller | 124′
Susanne Bier is a well known as one of Denmark’s most distinguished auteurs. Her themes are universal in nature but their focus is intimate and often family-based, both on her TV and in big screen outings. As one of the original Danish Dogme pack, her drama Open Hearts brought her into the international spotlight in 2002. Bier was also the first female director to win a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a European Film Award.
This time, to her credit, she has decided to experiment with a dystopian sci-fi drama . Structurally flawed and not particularly enjoyable, despite its starry cast, BIRDBOX is a laudable effort but not one of her best. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, a run of the mill artist who has converted her small flat into a studio and is expecting the imminent arrival of a baby. But her ordinary life is catapulted into bizarre and tragic circumstances when a wave of unexplained mass suicides in Romania and Siberia turns the world upside down. Everywhere people display what newscasters term “psychotic behaviour” in the post-apocalyptic meltdown. Cars crash for no reason, and pedestrians wander willy nilly onto main roads, or shoot themselves in the head. To add to the weirdness of it all, Bier’s narrative jerks backwards and forwards showing Malorie’s reaction in the present to the madness that has gone before. Clearly this all resonates with a contemporary scenario where people have lost sight of their goals. This translates into a storyline where humans must protect their eyesight at all costs when outdoors, and are forced to be blindfold for fear of facing their worst nightmares.
Bullock is superbly cast exuding all the pragmatism and resilience she’s well known for (in Gravity and Speed) but for some reason she’s also looking after two children who are clearly not hers. And why the pregnancy into the bargain? The film opens well with the cataclysm but then descends into torpor in the claustrophobically awkward second act which takes place in a house where Malorie is hiding with arch misery-guts John Malkovich’s Douglas and a retired soldier (Rhodes). Later joining them is a sinister but chipper Tom Hollander. This interior strife clearly echoes what’s happening outside, and is only briefly leavened by Douglas’ discovery of a cache of booze. But even when the action moves into the forest the whole scenario is unconvincing. BIRDBOX brings nothing new to the dystopian apocalypse party, apart from the blindfolds – which are a distraction. Clearly the dark forces causing all the mayhem are inspired by Medusa’s Gorgon, but this all seems too far-fetched and strung out. Full marks for trying but let’s hope Bier returns to form in 2019. MT
STREAMING ON NETFLIX FROM 21 DECEMBER 2018