Trevante Rhodes

Bird Box

06/01/19

I’m not sure what to make of Netflix’s latest hit, Bird Box. On the one hand, it’s a decent little sensory-deprivation horror movie (is that a genre now?), nicely acted and directed, and it certainly takes me along for the ride. But on the other hand… well, there’s some pretty dodgy subtext here, and I’m not sure I want to overlook this stuff.

Sandra Bullock is Malorie, single and pregnant, ambivalent about impending motherhood. She wisecracks her way through her maternity appointments and avoids discussing crucial issues such as where a baby might be accommodated in her tiny artist’s studio. Of course she’s an artist: she has to work in a visual medium to underline the awfulness of what comes next.

Not that her art is ever mentioned again, once the mysterious beings arrive and begin their decimation of the human race. The conceit here is that ‘they’ can only get you if you look at them, but if you even catch a glimpse they’ll drive you to kill yourself. I like that director Susanne Bier never lets us see them ourselves, that their awfulness is left to our imaginations. But for the characters holed up in Greg (BD Wong)’s house, where they’ve fled in terror from the first attack, the beings are an ever-present threat, and survival is almost impossible.

There’s a great cast, featuring John Malkovich and Jacki Weaver, Sarah Paulson and Tom Hollander. Trevante Rhodes is Tom, and he’s a charming, likeable leading man. It’s always nice to see Parminder Nagra on screen, albeit this time in a minor role, as Malorie’s obstetrician. And the tension is palpable, even though the time-hopping structure means that we know from the beginning that Bullock ends up a lone adult, looking after two small kids, and pitting her wits against this unknown enemy.

But…

*MINOR SPOILER ALERT*

… there’s the heavy-handed extended metaphor about motherhood to deal with: the implication that Malorie has to endure all this heartbreak and struggle in order to accept her true calling as a mother; that her earlier consideration of adoption for her baby could never really have been the right answer.

And the depiction of people with mental health issues is problematic too. ‘They’ (because they’re different from ‘us,’ right?) don’t commit suicide when they see the beings; they become converts to the beings’ cause, committed missionaries, cajoling and persuading as many people as possible to take off their blindfolds and see the light. It’s unsettling, actually, to see such a toe-curling division drawn between the sane and the insane; I thought we understood things better than that now.

So, on the surface, a fun way to pass an evening. But it doesn’t really bear much scrutiny. If you really want to see something in this ‘genre,’ A Quiet Place is far superior.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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Moonlight

17/02/17

Moonlight is a coming-of-age movie, chronicling the life of a young black man, and the problems he faces as he tries to forge his identity in the unforgiving environs of his Miami neighbourhood.

We first meet Chiron as ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert). He is a quiet, introverted boy, preyed upon by bullies and neglected at home. Salvation comes in the unlikely form of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug-dealer, who assumes a fatherly role in Little’s life, and whose softer side is a welcome nuance, so often missing from the cartoon villainy of on-screen criminals. He recognises Little’s vulnerability, and seeks to help him out: teaches him to swim, reassures the boy about his sexuality. He has a conscience too, and is clearly affected when Little’s mum (Naomie Harris) points out his responsibility for her neglectful parenting: he supplies the crack that renders her incapable. Hibbert’s performance is achingly good in this first third of the film: he doesn’t articulate his neediness, but its plain for all to see. He’s so full of hope and potential; we don’t want to witness his pain.

The second section of the film details Chiron’s teenage years, and Ashton Sanders takes over the lead role. It’s a seamless transition: this version of Chiron is less open, more furtive, but his neediness is just as naked as it ever was. He’s still being bullied, and Juan is no longer around – although he does still see Teresa (Janelle Monáe), Juan’s erstwhile girlfriend. He’s less confused about his sexuality, though just as incapable of expressing himself, and far too dependent on his one friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). It’s difficult to watch this sweet young man harden himself against the outside world; heartbreaking to see his future narrowing before our eyes.

In his third and final incarnation, Chiron – now known as ‘Black’ – is played by Trevante Rhodes. His transformation is absolute: the events of the past have shaped him in Juan’s mould – clearly, he’s chosen to emulate the strongest, most positive male role-model in his life. He’s a trapper now, selling the very drugs that blighted his own youth. But he’s still Chiron, still kind and inarticulate, still just the same inside. But he’s taken control – sort of – and he’s no longer quite so vulnerable when he meets up with Kevin again.

This is an affecting movie, a personal tale so precisely told that it shines a light on a common ill. This is not just Chiron’s story – it is the story of so many boys. It articulates everything that Chiron can not. And if the ending feels abrupt (and it does; I was startled when the credits rolled), that’s the only criticism that I have of this fine piece of work.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield