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The untold truth of Bird Box

The constant flow of Netflix original films and series can be overwhelming. Some are interesting, offbeat flicks like the Coen brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, while others start out shaky and then find their footing, as we saw between the first and second seasons of Marvel's Iron Fist. But every once in a while, a film hits the Netflix home screen and immediately skyrockets off the charts, soaking up gobs of viewers and earning headlines in the process — like, for example, Bird Box.

This thriller takes place in an apocalyptic world where mysterious creatures have upended human society. It captivated audiences not just with its eerie suspense, but also with solid acting from Sandra Bullock, who plays the film's protagonist, Malorie, along with a cast of excellent supporting talent including Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich. The movie has caused a flurry of reactions, rumors, and reports, and the story behind the scenes has proven to be just as interesting. So let's shutter those windows, remove our blindfolds, and take a good long look at the film that caused so much hype over the 2018 holiday season. This is the untold truth of Bird Box.

It's based on a book

While it may feel like Bird Box, by and large, felt like someone simply took The Happening and A Quiet Place and smooshed them together into a new film about birds and blindfolds, the director, Susanne Bier, has firmly confirmed that wasn't the case. "No, no, no," Bier told Polygon. "We were shooting [in April 2018] when we had heard of A Quiet Place and we were almost finished editing when it came out." The film actually found the basis for its story from the novel of the same name, published by Josh Malerman in 2014.

The fact that Bird Box was based on a story that predated Krasinski's 2018 smash hit thriller is comforting, as nothing takes the wind out of the sails of a good movie like knowing that it's a knockoff. The film's success with audiences also launched Malerman's novel into the top ranks of Amazon's "Most Sold" fiction books… even though it had never been on the list before the movie hit everyone's streaming queues.

The book ending is a bit bleak

Josh Malerman's book provided the inspiration for Bird Box, but it's worth taking a moment to call out a few of the new wrinkles that were added to the story in the process of adapting it for the screen. For the most part, the movie follows the book fairly closely, with the same monsters, apocalypse, and struggle to get to the sanctuary at the end of the river. But there are a few significant changes, including one at the end of the film that was quickly called out more than once in the days following the movie's release.

It turns out that the end of the book was actually quite a bit darker than the uplifting end to the film. While Malorie, Boy, and Girl all reach the sanctuary at the end of the river, it doesn't turn out to be quite the paradise they were expecting, as the other survivors still continue to wear blindfolds or have even permanently blinded themselves as a precaution against the creatures. This subtle change from a deflated, discouraging end to a slightly more hopeful finale was explained by director Bier, who pointed out, "I'm not particularly interested for the audience to leave, from the cinema or their own screen, with a kind of completely bleak point of view."

Different characters

One of the other larger deviations from the original text came in the form of some rather significant changes to a handful of the characters and their story arcs. For example, in the first act of the film, Malorie's sister Jessica, played by Sarah Paulson, is quickly whisked away after she sees a creature while driving Malorie home from the hospital. In the book, though, she survives along with her sister for a few months before falling victim to the monsters. Malorie's love interest Tom (Trevante Rhodes) was also altered, but in the opposite direction. Rather than surviving in the house and going on to raise Boy and Girl with Malorie, he falls victim to Gary while Malorie is busy delivering her baby.

And then there's Douglas, John Malkovich's character, who spouts the harshest and most utterly cold-blooded common sense in the film. While he ended up being a critical part of the movie, his character was non-existent in the book — although the novel's character Dom seems to fit the closest with Malkovich's Douglas.

The monsters

The most mysterious element of the film is the creatures themselves. The creative minds behind the project were wise enough to never actually show them apart from a handful of disturbingly dark and dim drawings that Gary spread out on a coffee table. But it turns out that the thought of creating a visual representation of the monsters was actually seriously considered for a time, and even filmed at one point.

According to Bloody Disgusting, screenwriter Eric Heisserer reported that at one point, upon the insistence of a producer, they scripted a nightmare sequence during which Malorie sees a creature in the house. The problem? It's difficult to create a visual of something that is so scary it literally causes characters to kill themselves when they see it. Instead, when the monster was brought onto the set, it prompted laughter from Bullock, who later described as "a green man with a horrific baby face." Hardly the stuff of suicide-inducing nightmares. They wisely dropped the idea altogether before release. As director Bier added, "Whatever those beings are, they tap into your deepest fear. Everybody's deepest fear is going to be different from the other person. I think to suddenly take upon a concrete shape in order to illustrate that becomes weak."

Bird Box sculptor Andy Bergholtz later shared images of the creature as a work in progress, and… well, it's probably for the best that the scene in question stayed on the cutting room floor.

Drawing criticism over depictions of mental illness

As is the case with any popular movie, Bird Box has faced criticism over certain elements and messages that the movie seemed to embrace or at the least turn a blind eye to. In this case, the number one contenders were mental illness and suicide, which were at least appropriate topics of discussion in the sense that both played instrumental roles in the storyline.

That said, the reactions were numerous and varied, with many accusing the movie of reflecting poorly on suicide and its true motivations. Others condemned the representation of mental illness — anyone suffering from a serious mental disorder in the film didn't kill themselves, but rather became "agents of evil," trolling around and making people look at the creatures. Often these characters came from asylums or prisons, further stereotyping the antagonists. However, others have argued that the film actually serves as a vehicle to promote awareness for mental illnesses and suicide, highlighting the fact that both can strike suddenly, even when someone seems to be doing fine.

Fraidy cat leading ladies

Bird Box is pretty scary, with a menagerie of different moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to discover that neither Sandra Bullock nor Sarah Paulson are fans of being scared in the first place. And we don't mean that in an "aww, that's cute" sort of way. They've actually been vocal — and fairly serious — about the topic in interviews.

Case in point: when the two co-stars, who are best buds behind the camera, were interviewed by People, they made it clear that they "didn't enjoy feeling fear while on set." The two also launched into a critique of Ellen DeGeneres' habit of purposefully trying to scare them —  especially Paulson — whenever they went on her show. Laughs aside, both Bullock and Paulson's performances in Bird Box become that much more impressive when one considers that throughout the project they were battling real-life discomfort along while avoiding the movie's fictional monsters.

Bullock prepared to be blind

From Christian Bale's shocking transformation between The Machinist and The Dark Knight to Colin Firth's preparation for The King's Speech, the way an actor goes about getting physically, mentally, and emotionally "in shape" for a role can be fascinating, and Bird Box is no exception. Bullock was intensely committed to the role, as evidenced by her intense preparation for the time her character spends blindfolded in an effort to avoid seeing the creatures.

According to director Susanne Bier, Bullock spent time with a blind man who specializes in teaching other blind people to navigate. He helped her understand that sound acts differently in various spaces, helping teach her to find her way around without her eyes. Bullock's commitment hurt: At one point, her blindfold led her into an encounter with a camera that drew blood. But while she may have been committed to the role regardless of her own security, Bullock's passion for authenticity did give way when it came to the safety of others. She had the blindfold reduced to a single layer of thickness whenever she had to carry her onscreen kids through a scene.

Trying new things

While Sandra Bullock trained to be able to move without sight in Bird Box, she purposefully didn't prepare for another aspect of her character's journey. For a movie where she would be spending a significant amount of the time floating in a pretty small boat on a rather large river, Bullock's experience as a skipper was literally nil the first time she stepped into the boat.

It was a very deliberate choice. Bullock considered the story carefully and decided to use her aquatic ignorance in her favor, insisting that the river scenes be filmed in chronological order so her rowing could look better as the movie progressed — precisely as it would look in the case of the equally inexperienced Malorie if the scenario were real. While method acting stories can sometimes sound pretty silly, in this case, it's hard to argue with Bullock's rationale — or the end result.

An incredible viewing response

At the end of Bird Box's first week of availability, the Netflix Twitter account posted a tweet boasting that the movie had already been watched by an impressive 45 million accounts, giving it the "best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film!"

While that's a milestone worth celebrating, many news outlets were quick to criticize the figure as less meaningful than it seemed. For more than one pundit, Netflix's tight control of its viewership numbers has made any stat shared by the company less trustworthy than the Nielsen ratings used as a benchmark for cable and broadcast networks. Did 45 million people really stream Bird Box in its first week? Maybe not, but the buzz makes it easy to believe that everyone and their mother was watching this thing over the 2018 holiday break.

Those memes, though

For a movie filled with so much fear, gore, and dreadful anticipation, Bird Box had a bit of an odd impact with the online community, which manifested in the form of a collection of humorous memes. It didn't take long after the movie's release before a series of hysterical memes started popping up all over the interweb showcasing a plethora of different reactions, opinions, and parodies from various elements of the movie.

Some fans simply posted pictures of themselves with their eyes shielded by various coverings. Others shared sequences of people going bananas in slapstick ways, indicating that they'd "opened their eyes." One showed a nervous kid with the subtitle "me after watching bird box, and the leaves start swirling." And an endless procession of others made fun of the driving "dark" scene, Gary's museum of artwork, and everyone's favorite cold-hearted jerk Douglas, just to name a few. You can find many of the best memes along with their explanations here. Needless to say, they're a welcome relief if you've just finished the movie and need something to help lighten the mood.

A challenge worth refusing

Funny memes aside, the other internet phenomenon that the movie spawned was dubbed "the Bird Box challenge," which involved people posting videos of themselves doing things blindfolded.

It only took a matter of days before some of the challenge videos got dangerous. One featured a dad literally running his kid into a wall in an attempt to recreate a scene from the film. It didn't take long for Netflix to issue a statement warning, "Can't believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don't know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes." It's almost enough to make eating detergent look safe and sane by comparison.

An Easter egg

Many of Bird Box's little details and loose ends were discussed as viewers digested the experience. For example, the shotgun that Douglas was struggling with when Gary tackled him through the railing somehow magically worked again once Tom got it in his hands. Or what about the fact that the birds were in a box tied around Girl's neck when she plunged into the rapids… but were fine just a few minutes later when they reached the shore.

There are always ways to minimize and excuse the little continuity errors away. But one question was quickly answered in the form of an Easter egg of sorts, albeit a gruesome one. If you wondered what happened to the couple that left the house in search of their children immediately after Malorie arrived, it turns out that they were the corpses the group accidentally ran over while driving to the supermarket. Gross? Yes. But at least we have some closure there, which is more than we can say about the fate of Lucy and Felix.