Four Frames: Staring Into the Unknown in Bird Box

Susanne Bier’s Bird Box (2018) starts, like many horror-thriller movies, with a terrifying premise — a monster that gives the insane power and the innocent death. However, as the movie progresses, I have to wonder if the monster has a deeper meaning regarding the human psyche.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) refuses outside contact as she focuses on her artworks. She is apprehensive of strangers and even relies on her sister (Sarah Paulson) for groceries. All this aloofness, despite her approaching childbirth. Everything changes on her way back from the hospital. A monster is out on the loose and causes its victims to commit suicide. Malorie, along with a group of passersby, hides in a house as a drama of survival, selfishness, and trust unfolds.

Bier never shows the audience what the monster looks like. A rise of the wind, cluster of sounds, and rustling of leaves reveal its terrifying presence. Every time a person sees the monster, a close-up of his or her face manifests all the horror.

One memorable scene is when Gary (Tom Hollander) gazes up into the camera as Malorie screams during childbirth. Beyond him lay sketches of what is supposedly the monster. But what is more chilling than the sharp scales and decaying flesh of the drawing is his eyes and a hint of a smile as he aims to bring his benefactors to death.

In the following scene, Gary sneaks upstairs and tries to force everyone to open their eyes. In the below shot, he peels back the eyelids of Cheryl (Jacki Weaver) as they look into the face of death together. Instead of showing the object of horror, Bier places the camera squarely into the eyes of the sufferer. It’s an eerie thought to expect the character to die each time they make eye contact with the audience.

Bier makes the audience sympathize with the characters as they step, helplessly blindfolded, out in the world. Human contact is no longer a choice but a mode of survival. The audience watches the blind leading the blind as they explore a world that is no longer sane.

Lastly, the symbol of the birds rounds the direction of the plot. The birds in the cage are detectors of evil, but most importantly the hope to escape. As the protagonist learns later, she needs to bestow identity and trust in the survivors just as much as she needs to keep them alive.

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