A Monsterless Monster Movie: Bird Box

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A Monsterless Monster Movie: Bird Box

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,

– Lines 60–64, Paradise Lost (Canto I),
John Milton

Of the many wild and gory descriptions of hell, the one made by poet John Milton in the epic, ‘Paradise Lost’, could be considered the most frightening. In his depiction of Lucifer’s realm, Milton wrote that the place was a furnace with flames all around that gave just enough light to highlight the “darkness visible.”

This barely visible world of agony could strike terror in the heart of those who were punished in hell, similar to us who find the unseen and the unimaginable frightening.

Susanne Bier portrays a similar act in her movie, ‘Bird Box’. The film is based on a malevolent force who, upon being seen, manipulates the witness into committing suicide. The twist – Bier never once in the entire length of film shows us this death-summoning creature.

This feature is quite different from other similar thriller movies where a grotesque entity, or entities, serve to haunt the characters as well as the audience throughout. Be it Valak from ‘The Nun,’ Predator from the ‘Predator’ franchise, or the Frankenstein monster from revered novel ‘Frankenstein’.

The exclusion of this monster’s tangible form helps to serve many ideas that make this otherwise regular film rather interesting. One such elementary idea is that ‘Bird Box’ moves beyond categorization. The ambiguity of the monster allows the movie to remain somewhat unclassified, while managing to amp the suspense to the nth degree throughout.

It is not meant to be a supernatural flick per say, as there are no viable themes of monsters present. Although, Charlie, played by Lil Rel Howery, says that it is the end of the world and different cultures have different demons/monsters that bring this purge, it is not proven or ever given significant weight during the unfolding of this film. Moreover, no proof of any scientific mishap or international warfare are displayed to categorize it as science fiction. The being is not defined as a definite ghost or an apparition. It simply comes out of nowhere, never to be seen or fully understood by the viewer.

If it were any of the above-stated genres, the audience, who is known for its choosiness now-a-days, would be limited. Keeping it open has allowed people to watch the flick and even riposte generalization.

Further, a faceless entity allows the movie to focus on the characters and events, and keeps the viewer hooked. In fact, there are negligible amount of jump scares, forcing the focus to be on the relationship between Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock, and her children, which is, essentially, the core theme of the movie.

A Monsterless Monster Movie: Bird Box | Sandra Bullock on Netflix

Blindfolded Sandra Bullock leads the rescue in “Bird Box”.

On literary terms, the monster is used as a device to give Malorie and the children to bond in a time of impending disaster – a recurring theme in Bier’s work. As the story follows, Malorie is shown to have no interest in her yet unborn baby and feels she might not be capable of loving him/her. As time progresses and her baby is born, she shows concern for its well-being, and at one point even remarks that every single decision she makes is to ensure her child’s survival.

A major statement regarding her emotional uncertainty towards her children is that she has named them “Boy” and “Girl,” which she calls them throughout the journey. But that all changes at the end of the film, after they’ve bonded through hardship, and she christens them with proper names.

This marks the transition from a guarded person in recluse, to a caring and loving mother. The monster, being, or entity, whatever it may be, inadvertently helps to bring the ‘family’ closer. The plot device can be labeled as MacGuffin, a plot device popularized by director Alfred Hitchcock.

However, the decision to keep the ‘monster’ formless and faceless was not a conscious one. The movie’s screenwriter,  Eric Heisserer, told Bloody Disgusting, “There was a time when one of the producers were like, ‘No, you have to see something at some point’ and forced me to write essentially a nightmare sequence where Malorie experiences one in that house.”

The scene was later cut out of the movie after Bier thought that the ‘monster’ looked, quite frankly, ridiculous. “It was a green man with a horrific baby face,” said Bullock about the ‘monster’.

Nevertheless, Bier successfully created a monster movie without a monster, and a suspense thriller that will be talked about throughout the decade to boot.

Critic reviews

Bird Box is an occasionally riveting sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson.Full review

Aisha Harris
The NYTimes

Bird Box is a respectably moody and intelligent psychological thriller, if also a relatively muddled supernatural horror allegory.Full review

Sandy Schaefer
Screen Rant

Bird Box won’t be up for any awards, most likely, and it’s R all the way. It didn’t need to be.           Full review

Paul Asay
Plugged In

You don’t appreciate the art of a good genre contrivance until you see one pulled off poorly.Full review

Emily Yoshida
Vulture

Director

Susanne Bier

Writers

Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Josh Malerman (novel)

Cinematographer

Salvatore Totino

Full Cast and Crew

See here

Budget

19.8 million USD

Released

December 13, 2018 USA

Rating

R (for violence, bloody images, language and brief sexuality)