Don’t Look Now!: ‘Bird Box’ and its Vision of Terror

January 3, 2019 Jan. 3, 2019

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her two children fight for survival in a world overtaken by an unexplained phenomenon causing strange visions throughout the world that drive many who look at them insane. Bird Box, which broke Netflix viewership numbers almost as soon as it dropped, seems to have touched a nerve in audiences worldwide.

Shot by Salvatore Totino (Everest, Spider-Man: Homecoming) this was the first foray into the horror genre by multiple award-winning Danish director Susanne Bier and for colorist Sean Coleman. “I was geeked out of my mind,” colorist Sean Coleman declares. Coleman’s feature film work has primarily been a bit more low-key in style but he has always been a fan of scary genre movies. “I don’t usually work on a lot of vibrant, colorful, contrasty projects and this was rich and mysterious and full of contrast.”

Of Bier, Coleman says “She was also very excited by working in the genre and I think she gave this her personal stamp in that it’s more emotional, you connect with the characters more than in what you might call the traditional horror film. It is touching and endearing, with very good, believable, performances that make it special.”

The idea was to “start bright and cheery,” he says of the movie’s color palette. “The opening scenes are vibrant, colorful and evoke a generally nice world.” But the look soon changes as we start to learn about these mind-destroying visions throughout the world. Time goes by and Malorie hunkers down in her house with her children and an eclectic group of stranglers trying to survive amid these terrifying visions. Electricity and other services cease and the world takes on a very different feel. “We worked in the grade to help reflect these changes,” Coleman says.

The film also contains a framing story of Malorie and her children taking a desperate and dangerous journey down a river in a small raft. “That needed to look cold and stark,” Coleman adds. “We fine-tuned [Totino’s] imagery in the grade, manipulating contrast and pushing some things a bit further into darkness without losing the characters, of course.”

Coleman colored in P3 color space and subsequently created an additional Dolby Vision HDR pass. For this pass he made subtle use of Dolby Vision’s larger dynamic range to dramatic effect. “We could do some interesting work letting shadows that can go darker and highlights that can go higher, while still holding more detail than possible in standard dynamic range,” he explains. “So if you have a character or some scary object just in shadow, or quickly coming from shadow into brightness, an HDR finish can really accentuate those effects. And this genre offers a number of opportunities to really take advantage of HDR in that way.”