Bird Box: Director Susanne Bier On The Film's Hidden Horrors

Bird Box: Director Susanne Bier On The Film's Hidden Horrors

By John Nugent Posted 20 Dec 2018

Danish director Susanne Bier loves getting spooked. She is a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan. But as she saw it, a horror can sometimes lose its power when the threat is finally revealed on screen. The mystery, the unknown, the just-out-of-frame — it can be more powerful, somehow.

“I’ve always felt that whenever I saw a thriller or a horror film or anything scary, the moment before you actually see the monster is always, for me, the most scary,” explains Bier, director of Bird Box. “How can we make an entire movie like that for two hours?”

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box aims to do just that, depicting an apocalypse in which the bringer of said apocalypse is never seen, never shown, never explained. The only thing known is that if you open your eyes outside, you’ll quickly find yourself infected with a curious desire to kill yourself, as violently as possible. The world quickly descends into suicidal chaos; the few survivors, whenever they venture outdoors, are forced to fumble around wearing blindfolds.

I’ve always felt that the moment before you see the monster is the most scary.

A Quiet Place, then, but with eyes? Bier, working on her first project since winning an Emmy for The Night Manager, thinks this is probably a bit reductive. “The book was written way before A Quiet Place,” she explains. “I thought A Quiet Place was great. One always tends to compare things because they come at the same time.” One key difference is that Bird Box, unlike John Krasinski’s film, depicts its apocalypse as it happens, in terrifying detail; also, there are no CG monsters here. Not that that wasn’t initially considered. “There were definitely voices early on going, ‘Hey, maybe we should see [the monster] anyway,’” says Bier. “That’s what happens when you start making a movie: you get scared. But no. It’s actually more harrowing not to see them.

Depicting an unseen force in a way that wasn’t contrived or silly proved a challenge, says Bier. “We did quite a lot of camera tests,” she says. “It’s a very cinematic premise which suggests a very stylised thing. But for me, the most important thing was to never lose the emotional connection [with the characters].”

It falls to Sandra Bullock to maintain that emotional connection, as a pregnant woman who watches (from behind a blindfold) the sky fall around her, leading a cast that includes John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson and Trevante Rhodes. Bier describes her lead actor as “courageous, relentless, diligent” and noted that she was blindfolded for real for much of the film, having consulted with care workers who specialised in advising the recently blind.

The result is so effective that the film is even spooking its own director. “I just came from the mix, and I managed to get scared,” Bier confesses, with a satisfied chuckle. “I’ve seen it so many times. Then you add all the right music and sounds, and you get scared again. Part of the joy of movies is entertaining our worst fears.” Like we said: she loves getting spooked.

Bird Box is on Netflix from 21 December.

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