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Sandra Bullock is the best part of Bird Box, Netflix’s new post-apocalyptic thriller

Bullock leads an all-star cast in a meandering movie with an intriguing premise.

Sandra Bullock stars in Bird Box, out on Netflix December 21.
Sandra Bullock stars in Bird Box, out on Netflix December 21.
Saeed Adyani/Netflix
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.

Bird Box

The premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, haunted by beings that cause psychotic behavior in nearly anyone who looks at them, Mallory (Sandra Bullock) tries to protect two small children while traveling to what she hopes is a safe colony.

What it’s about: Directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World), Bird Box takes its name from a box of birds that Mallory carries with her on her journey, which she and the children — who are named Boy and Girl, for reasons that become clear later on — must undertake blindfolded to save their very lives.

The movie cuts back and forth between that journey and the period five years prior, when bizarre apocalyptic horror was unleashed across the globe with the arrival of the beings. Who they are and what they want is never fully explained; Bird Box is more interested in its characters’ reactions to the horrors of their world than it is in explaining exactly what brought them about.

The film boasts a star-studded cast, including Bullock, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, and more. Most of them play characters who become trapped in a house together while trying to outrun the carnage taking place outside.

Bird Box is post-apocalyptic horror, with moments of intense violence and elements reminiscent of movies like Night of the Living Dead, A Quiet Place, and Children of Men. Unfortunately, the cross-cutting narrative device doesn’t add much to the movie, and as it wears on, it starts to feel like it isn’t totally sure what it’s trying to do. Still, it’s entertaining enough to be worth watching for fans of the genre or of Bullock, who turns in a strong performance as a woman who has motherhood thrust onto her in a world loaded with peril.

Critical consensus: Bird Box currently has a score of 51 on Metacritic. At Indiewire, Michael Nordine writes that “Bier’s direction is coolly efficient, which fits the material to a t — anything more ostentatious would just feel wasteful.”

Where to watch: Bird Box is streaming on Netflix.