Bird Box and What Makes a Movie Scary

SPOILERS FOR BIRD BOX BELOW: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Back to Article
Back to Article

Bird Box and What Makes a Movie Scary

Image Courtesy of The New Yorker

Image Courtesy of The New Yorker

Image Courtesy of The New Yorker

Michael Finnen, Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In November of 2018, a new movie on Netflix gained immense popularity. This movie is called Bird Box, and despite its peaceful and serene sounding title, this movie is actually a horror film. While the movie’s overall quality is debatable (it certainly has problems which cannot be ignored), I am writing today about what makes this movie truly scary. Trust me, for all of its problems, Bird Box does have some shudder-inducing moments, and by the end of this article, I hope that you will have a better understanding of what a truly good horror film contains. I highly suggest you watch the film in order to better understand the contents of this article, but it is certainly not necessary as I will not be using the actual plot of the film too much in analyzing it.

The premise of Bird Box is quite simple, do not look, or you will die. Instantly catches your attention, right? This is the first part of a truly scary movie, a simple, easy to understand idea, that is explored in depth. No more understanding is necessary, than that if the characters see this unknown entity (we as the audience never actually see it), then they are driven mad and try to kill themselves. This allows us as the audience to get instantly invested in the story, it gets us on the edge of our seats right at the start. We do not have to spend our time dissecting a complicated idea. Instead, we can focus our attention on the characters and the unraveling of the plot. Instant intrigue is the key to any successful horror film, as a slow start will often bore an expectant audience. Just learning about the premise of Bird Box at the start of the film was enough to have me excited for what was to come.

The next thing which Bird Box does so well is its actual scares. It does not rely on cheap jump scares for pure shock factor. There is nothing that I hate more than a horror movie that relies solely on jump scares for horror. That is not horror, there is no feeling of dread or true fear that comes from a truly good horror movie, it only surprises us, it simulates the feeling of fear. A good jump scare here and there can actually benefit a film, as it creates a long stretch of suspense and fear for an instant payoff, but it just feels cheap when a movie relies on them too much. I went into Bird Box expecting jump scares, but to my surprise, I did not find any. This factor coupled with how the movie presents its scares are what make it truly brilliant. The true horror of Bird Box comes from the overhanging sense of fear that sits throughout the entire movie. We as an audience never see the evil entity, but it is heavily implied that it shows a person’s worst fears to them, driving them mad. Never seeing the entity prevents any jump scares from ever happening and instead presents it as an almost inescapable evil. We as an audience watch character after character dismantle themselves, we watch the world fall before this entity, and we watch the characters, helplessly hiding indoors, desperately trying to avoid looking at it. It feels as if the entity is everywhere at once, surrounding everything. This is truly amazing, as it goes away from the very real and palpable serial killers and demons of other horror movies. The sense of fear is real, and it is the feeling that we as an audience know no more than the characters themselves know, truly amplifying the fear. It is almost as though we ourselves are with the characters, surrounded, afraid, and confused. No jump scares allow for the suspense to build through the entirety of the movie’s run, only to have a payoff at the end, when the characters finally escape to safety. Contrary to jump scares, this payoff feels earned, the relief is real, and it is a testament to how immersion contributes to fear.

Now, for everything that Bird Box does right, it is not perfect. There is one more factor that I would like to talk about that this movie does quite poorly. For this segment, I will use another, arguably better horror movie, The Shining. Bird Box’s main problem is its characters. Many feel flat and one dimensional; you have the stereotypical nerd, the angry old man who is actually somewhat nice, the Rambo girl, etc. While these characters are only fodder to be killed throughout the film, it is hard to think of them as people and become attached to them when they are so one dimensional. The movie does not at all use its characters to effectively create horror, and this is where The Shining does it so much better. Part of what makes the Shining so horrifying is the transformation which the main character Jack experiences as he slowly but surely goes insane. It has the same feeling of fear overhanging as Bird Box does. However, I encourage you right now to look at a picture of the characters of the Shining and a picture of the characters of Bird Box and then come back to continue reading. Do you see the difference? The characters of the Shining look… off, to say the least, and director Stanley Kubrick did this intentionally. It is said that he would make the actors go through take after take until they themselves were almost driven insane, and that is how the best results came about. The characters themselves unnerve the audience before anything scary even happens, as opposed to the characters of Bird Box, who are flat, and uninteresting.

Despite its flaws, Bird Box does so many things right. By no means is the movie perfect, but all it takes is one watch to know that it is in fact frightening. Next time, when you watch a horror movie, think about some of these ideas that make them so terrifying, you will certainly notice things you never did before.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email