Josh Malerman’s eerie 2014 sci-fi horror novel Bird Box became a smash success in the wake of the unsettling 2018 Netflix film it was adapted into starring Sandra Bullock. Two years later, its story of an invisible and easily-transmittable enemy has never been more relevant. Now Malorie, a sequel set 12 years after the events of the first book, has arrived to further the harrowing tale of Malorie (Bullock in the movie) and her two children, now teenagers.
Of course, the news of a written sequel has plenty of fans questioning whether Netflix’s Bird Box sequel will follow. Malerman can’t say much, but he tells Inverse that it’s definitely already in development at Netflix
“All I can say right now is that development has begun,” he says. “That’s all I know. They [Netflix] want to do it and I imagine any involvement I would have would be the same as Bird Box.”
We spoke with Malerman on the Twilight Zone qualities of his Bird Box universe, Netflix’s in-development project for the sequel, similarities with today’s COVID-19 crisis, delving deeper into Malorie’s hostile world, fright films that influenced his books, and the weirdest explanations he’s ever heard for the hostile alien entities. Hint: It might involve colossal fruit!
Can you take us through a timeline of how Malorie was born after the success of Bird Box?
Netflix picked up the Bird Box rights from Universal in like 2016-17, then informed us that Sandra Bullock was going to star as Malorie, and at that point I realized that this was really going to get made.
Then the movie comes out in late 2018, and I was in the Netflix screening room in LA and right away I see Sandra and I thought wow, this is incredible. I was completely overwhelmed. My first novel ever published was made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock!
I thought, well now what happens to her? I write books very fast and try to do two or three a year and I wanted to tell more of her story. One of the ways for me to focus on her was to call the book Malorie, and we’re going to dig deeper into knowing her and she was going to be the centerpiece.
I’ve always thought the Bird Box story is not as much end-times as it is to me like a Twilight Zone episode. There’s very little talk of physical survival and barely any mention of government ineptitude or involvement. There’s barely a mention of the world going quiet to begin with. So I’ve always seen it more as The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street than War of the Worlds. And to ensure that I kept it that way, I brought the lens a little closer and am now focusing just on Malorie instead of all the housemates.
There are obvious parallels in Malorie to the current pandemic crisis. Where do you see them intersecting on themes of societal fears and human nature?
It was almost completely coincidence on one level that Malorie is considered old school and almost mocked in certain scenarios for living entirely by the blindfold. She’s like, “We know this works. You can be as progressive or as rebellious as you want, but we know the blindfold works. Let’s just use it.” Her son, Tom, who is sixteen now in Malorie, grew up with these creatures. He’s coming of age and is an intelligent dude, and thinks, “Yeah mom, we can be safe and progressive at the same time.”
There are people who are totally against the blindfold. Then there are people like her son who wear the blindfold but are thinking, how can we better this scenario? Strict sticking to the blindfold is a total parallel to this whole mask thing going on. But to me, the biggest parallel between Bird Box and the current pandemic is that we don’t know when it’s going to end. What does the other side of this look like? When is that? Is it flattening the curve? The chilling aspect is the not knowing.
What weird or interesting research did you embark on for Malorie?
The two areas I wanted to look at were, first, the speed at which a train can operate while someone is ahead of it clearing the track. How beneficial is taking the train versus walking if the train is only traveling a few miles an hour? That, along with the list of failed attempts at looking at the creatures. So I thought of looking through telescopes, periscopes, prisms, photos, maybe an older photo. In Bird Box, someone video taped them and that was the only other way somebody ever looked at one.
But 17 years into this, there’d have to be hundreds of ways to try and look at them, like through water and other things. So that to me was darker since it was looking at people failing at surviving. I could almost write an entire novel about that. It would almost be exciting to write the census papers. I love the idea of digging deeper into that world.
There have been many creative interpretations over the years of what these lethal entities are. What are some of the most interesting or bizarre you’ve ever heard?
One girl who wrote me said that she was convinced they were giant fruit! Like giant bananas and pears. I was like, whoa! And that email did not seem like a joke. That was one of the weirdest ones.
And I got one where the person thought that the monsters were the internet that they can’t look at that drives you mad. And then I’ve gotten religious things as well. Like you can’t look at sin or the devil or God’s face without going mad. But I don’t think I’ll ever top the giant fruit.
Bird Box and now Malorie act as a sort of Rorschach test. It’s an inkblot. What do you see here?
A lot of interviews ask me if I had something in mind for the creatures while I was writing. I always say that I know as much as Malorie knows. Now I see it as a literary inkblot. That’s part of the fear and part of the fun. I wish in a way that I had read Bird Box as just a reader. Because I am curious about what I would have thought they were. My guess is that I’d have leaned more toward creatures or something, but maybe not.
What are some of your most influential fright flicks whose DNA has seeped into Bird Box and Malorie?
One for sure was Fire in the Sky. I remember seeing that in the theater. That one really did a number on me, I was the perfect age for it or something. The other one that never stops influencing me, is the first horror movie I ever saw, Twilight Zone: The Movie.
That movie kind of had everything. You had the societal statement in the first segment where a racist monster has to experience being a minority. Then you have the heartstrings version of the scary story with Spielberg’s Kick the Can. Then you have Joe Dante’s chapter, It’s a Good Life, where this kid is an evil little god. That one really stretched the genre for me. And then the last segment is a straight-up creature feature, monster on an airplane, that no one else believes is there.
But probably the scariest moment of the movie is when Dan Aykroyd turns into the monster in the car. That movie did more for me than any other one. So many sub-genres in one movie. Under the Skin was another one for me and mostly because of the music. That soundtrack is absolutely genius.
Can you tell us what’s going on with Netflix’s planned film adaptation of Malorie?
All I can say right now is that development has begun. That’s all I know. They want to do it and I imagine any involvement I would have would be the same as Bird Box. I was completely welcome in the whole experience. I talked to the screenwriter multiple times. Allison and I went on set. We got to see storyboards before filming began. We went to the premiere in Los Angeles and New York. I just imagine, since it’s the same people involved, that Malorie would be the same. In terms of control or say or anything, I have no say at all.
Are there plans for a third Bird Box novel?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, some scenarios that might be interesting. But I don’t have that idea quite yet, but I’m totally open to the idea.
Josh Malerman’s Malorie arrives from Del Rey Books on July 21.