Photo: Courtesy Netflix

You don’t appreciate the art of a good genre contrivance until you see one pulled off poorly. There is so much “stuff” thrown at us in the opening minutes of Bird Box — someone on a radio talking about a safe-house compound, two nameless children in blindfolds, and yes, those titular birds in that titular box — that one feels instantly alienated by the sheer force of the effect on display. All fiction asks us to care about invented events and stakes, but sometimes a film never manages to puff itself up into something bigger than the sum of its parts, like a meringue in a greasy bowl. And the more serious and downbeat and gray the proceedings, the further the mind wanders.

Bird Box, like several other popular Netflix titles, feels like a film written by algorithm, but it is in fact based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, the kind of book that gets optioned a year before its release date. It’s set around a mysterious apocalyptic event wherein if one opens one’s eyes outside — or “looks,” as becomes the shorthand — one is driven to a suicidal berserker state. It’s A Quiet Place with sight, basically, and just as many vaguely metaphorical pseudo-deep ideas about motherhood and pregnancy. Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is a single mom-to-be when the Problem comes to her town, though she’s in willful denial of the fact that at some point she will give birth and have to care for whatever is growing inside her. She refuses to learn the gender of her baby and alludes to heavy drinking in the presence of her prenatal physician. She prefers to be by herself, and what are the odds the end times are going to teach her a…