After its debut on Netflix in December 2018, Bird Box became a near-instant success. The horror film broke streaming records over its release weekend, prompted a collection of Bird Box memes, and inspired a social media "challenge" that Netflix warned fans to avoid. The post-apocalyptic movie - directed by Susanne Bier, written for the screen by Eric Heisserer, and based on the novel by Josh Malerman - stars Sandra Bullock as Malorie, a pregnant woman whose life spins into horrifying mayhem when mysterious forces descend upon Earth, wreaking havoc and turning humanity into suicidal maniacs.
The film's terrifying unseen creatures became a huge topic of debate in the days following the release of Bird Box. We only know that they instill madness in anyone who looks at them, but otherwise, the creators of Bird Box never reveal the monsters' origins or actual appearance. As a result, numerous theories from both fans and critics alike have attempted to pinpoint the identity of these creatures, including where they came from and what they might represent.
This theory comes from one of the film's characters, Charlie, a fiction writer who has extensively studied "demonology" (though he admits his scope was limited to online blogs, so his ideas should be taken with a grain of salt).
He states, "It's an end game, man... Humanity has been judged, and we've been found wanting... You've got world religions and mythology that's full of mentions of demons or spirit creatures. People who've seen these creatures almost always describe their encounter as this... entity that takes on the form of your worst fears, or your deepest sadness, or your greatest loss."
While Charlie's theory might lack formal research, he does mention several figures from various myths that mirror the behavior of the creatures in the film. Charlie's theory is bolstered by the passing of Douglas's wife, Linda. Upon seeing one of the creatures, she begins talking to it as if it were her mother. Enraptured and smiling, she steps right into a burning vehicle. Later, Douglas reveals Linda's mother passed several years before. So did the creature take the form of Linda's mother in order to prey upon her grief and loss, as Charlie suggests?
In the novel, Malorie briefly considers the idea that the creatures - a word she dislikes because it doesn't adequately describe the beings - might be demons or devils, but finds these terms unsatisfactory, as well. Malerman writes, "They are monsters, Malorie thinks. But she knows they are more than this. They are infinity."
His questionable personal politics aside, H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror authors of the 20th century, and modern-day writers often allude to his work, either directly or indirectly. This has led many fans and critics to speculate that Bird Box author Josh Malerman is paying homage to Lovecraft with the mysterious creatures of his novel. While Malerman admitted he doesn't consider the author a major influence, his creatures are in many ways similar to Lovecraft's monsters.
Much like Cthulhu and other Lovecraft creations, the monsters in Bird Box are so incomprehensibly horrific that they drive anyone who sees them instantly insane; some kill themselves outright, while others develop cult-like adoration for the creatures and try to convince the rest of the world to look upon them.
In the film, Gary's drawings of the monsters seem to support this theory. They depict hulking nightmare figures of varying shape and appearance - one of which looks a great deal like Cthulhu. However, no one drawing looks quite like the others, suggesting the creatures are similar to the shape-shifting shoggoths, which appear in At the Mountains of Madness and several other Lovecraft stories. However, the variations in Gary's sketches could represent his own inability to keep a firm grasp on the monsters' appearances. In other words, this is the way Gary sees the creatures, but they may appear differently to others.
It's economically practical to keep the creatures hidden from view - no amount of CGI or special effects can top what viewers see in their imaginations. Their esoteric nature also adds a layer of symbolism to the overall narrative of Bird Box. According to The Wrap's Yolanda Machado:
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival) brilliantly interweaves subtle contrasts that reflect on today’s world. His adaptation offers fleeing refugees seeking shelter (with a quick shot of the borders being ordered closed), climate change that no one can outrun, the mass amount of gun violence and more, all the while asking, "How do you prepare the next generation, when you aren’t even sure you will survive the day?"
In other words, the monsters in Bird Box are a stand-in for any number of fears, both internal and external. They ultimately remain formless and faceless in order to lend themselves to whatever widespread anxieties we as a society collectively share. That we can only truly understand these creatures by looking at them, which results in the loss of all sanity and quite probably life, as well, makes them all the more terrifying.
As H.P. Lovecraft famously opined in his treatise Supernatural Horror in Literature, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
Josh Malerman cited Stephen King's The Mist as an inspiration for Bird Box. In King's short story and in the eponymous film, a mysterious mist harboring horrifying creatures descends upon a small town, trapping a group of people in a supermarket. While King's text only vaguely suggests the origin of these monsters, Frank Darabont's movie adaptation goes a bit further, revealing that the creatures are the result of a failed military experiment into interdimensional gateways.
Could the monsters of Bird Box also come from a parallel dimension? This might explain why they disappear and reappear so quickly - they slip in an out of wormholes between our dimension and their own.