We get it: dark, post-apocalyptic narratives oversaturate our era. But Netflix’s Bird Box, available on the streaming giant now, is not to be missed. A unique blend of high-concept horror and genuine emotional pathos, it captivated audiences worldwide upon its release in 2018—and continues to do so today. And its central, chilling conceit—to see is to die—certainly engenders a nerve-wracking survival story.
Bird Box was a surprise hit when it debuted on Netflix, but now it’s spooky season, so it’s the time for a re-watch.
Like many good films, Netflix’s horror crowd-pleaser originated with a novel. Author Josh Malerman originally penned Bird Box (the book) almost a decade ago. Like the movie, the story concerns a bleak world overrun by mysterious, vaguely demonic entities, baddies that are, at least most of the time, invisible—until they’re not.
And glimpsing the entities drives people to insanity and immediate, involuntary suicide.
The film similarly opens and unfolds in a world consumed by chaos. Having witnessed the horrific death of her sister and struggling to survive, the movie’s protagonist, Malorie (played brilliantly by Sandra Bullock), flees for refuge in a house sheltering other survivors. Malorie, crucially and desperately, is also pregnant—and understandably terrified.
Malorie and company deduce that, as seeing these entities results in death, the only surefire way to venture safely outside in Bird Box’s apocalyptic landscape is to don blindfolds. This they do, in search of food and provisions, soon discovering the entities’ proximity disturbs birds, prompting the survivors to snag a few to use as literal “canaries in the coal mine,” hence the film’s title.
Sandra Bullock’s powerhouse performance—vulnerable, steely, relatable, and hard-edged—powers Bird Box forward.
Amidst this turmoil and fear, Malorie and another survivor, Olympia, give birth. But their sanctuary is soon punctured, compromised by an outsider, who exposes several members to the entities and causes multiple deaths.
Forced to flee yet again, Malorie is saddled with her child and Olympia’s.
The film then fast forwards five years to when Malorie learns of an allegedly safe community, thus embarking on a perilous, blindfolded journey down a river with the two children. Together, they navigate threats from both the entities and dangerous survivors.
Sandra Bullock’s powerhouse performance—vulnerable, steely, relatable, and hard-edged—powers Bird Box forward. Her command and her compelling portrayal of motherly determination ooze authenticity. A veteran actor, her talents contribute welcome depth to the narrative, humanizing the apocalyptic environment with a mother’s fierce love and will to protect her children against all odds.
The critical reaction to the movie was mixed. While some critics appreciated the film’s innovative storyline and intense sequences, others considered certain aspects of the plot and world-building underdeveloped. On Rotten Tomatoes, Bird Box claims a 63 percent approval rating from 164 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. On Metacritic, the film holds 51 out of 100, indicating mixed reviews.
Brian Tallerico, writing on RogerEbert.com, criticized the film’s screenplay, asserting the climax lacked tension. Likewise, Aisha Harris of The New York Times propounded that the film was intermittently gripping but underwhelming overall.
Being a Netflix original, the movie lacks traditional “box office” performance indicators. That said, the streaming website offered some viewership numbers, roughly equivalent to box office figures for theatrical releases. Netflix reported that within the first seven days of the December 2018 release, over 45 million Netflixers had watched Bird Box, an impressive feat.
Given the film’s huge numbers online, expecting a sequel in the works wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Instead of a sequel, Netflix released Bird Box: Barcelona, a spin-off that takes place simultaneously with the Sandra Bullock original.
It’s relatedly true that Josh Malerman, the novel’s author, went on to write Malorie, the official sequel to the first book. Published in 2020, Malorie picks up right where its predecessor left off, providing fans with further insights into the world after the mysterious, horrible entities appear.
In July 2020, a cinematic sequel was announced; by March 2021, a Spanish-language spinoff (written by Álex and David Pastor) was confirmed. Netflix went on to announce this marked the beginning of several foreign-language spinoffs within the Bird Box universe. Titled Bird Box: Barcelona, the film premiered on Netflix in July 2023.
Many film fans might not immediately equate the film’s star, Sandra Bullock, with the horror franchise. Regardless, in this scary flick, the Miss Congeniality and Gravity star triumphs. So much so that it seems like she’s starred in horror blockbusters her whole career. Catch her in Bird Box, streaming on Netflix now.