The least essential sequel of 2023 moves things over to Europe for no particular reason.
Okay, fine, Bird Box Barcelona isn’t exactly a sequel. It’s more of a continuation, as Netflix gets a belated start on making a franchise out of 2018’s Bird Box, a perfectly fine but unremarkable film that inexplicably became a smash hit. Smash or not, five years is a long time, so you might need a refresher course. Much of Earth’s population has been decimated by malevolent beings with visages so emotionally overwhelming that anyone who looks at them immediately commits suicide, and the survivors are forced to navigate what’s left of the world with their eyes covered, lest they see whatever “they” are. That’s really all you need to remember.
It’s thin broth to cook up an entire film series with, but then again nobody expected to see eleven seasons and seven spin-offs from The Walking Dead either. In these bleak times, we love to see an even bleaker version of the world, either to feel better about current real-life circumstances, or to prepare ourselves for when things get worse. Bird Box Barcelona, directed by Alex and David Pastor, plays right into the most beloved tropes of the post-apocalypse genre, revealing its best twist within the first half hour and teasing a potentially interesting religious mania angle to the story but doing frustratingly little with it.
Nine months after the first encounter with the mysterious beings, Sebastian (Mario Casas) is wandering the decimated streets of Barcelona with Anna (Alejandra Howard), his young daughter. He’s taken it upon himself to help his fellow survivors, but not exactly the way you think. However, he’s forced to put his mission aside when he and Anna join a new group of survivors, including Claire (Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell) and her young charge Sofia (Naila Schuberth), who plan to make a perilous journey to Montjuic Castle, supposedly a safe haven for whoever’s left in the world.
I’d say more, but honestly that’s about it. The clever subverting of expectations happens early in the first act, then a conflicted anti-hero becomes just a regular hero, and it follows the same beats you’ve seen many times before, including just this year, notably with The Last of Us, which also focused on a stoic but broken man traveling with a young girl he feels obligated to protect. There’s only so many times you can hear someone frantically say “We’ve gotta get out of here!” or “Go, go, go!” before it gets irritatingly dull, as is the case with the alpha male squabbling between the survivors, and it being all too easy to figure out which characters are going to make it, and which have invisible name labels on their shirts that read “Dead Meat.”
At this point, the meant-to-be-shocking reveal that Humans Are The Real Monsters Here is so worn out that you find yourself counting the minutes until the hero gets a gun butt to the face, or an ominous looking vehicle appears to be tracking him. Of course humans are the real monsters here, they’re always the real monsters here. At this point I’d be more shocked if one of these things showed humans banding together to defeat the enemy, then living on a commune in peace and harmony. There’s an unexpected twist for you.
Let me be clear: Bird Box Barcelona isn’t a bad movie. It’s reasonably well-acted, and its action scenes are competently directed, if not a bit overlong (a bus crash seems to go on for five minutes straight). Its best moments, as is often the case in post-apocalyptic thrillers, are when everything initially goes down and panic and mass destruction ensues. But again, this is all rote by this point, and here the only creativity to be be found comes in trying to figure out how many different and gruesome ways a person can commit suicide, because why just shoot yourself when you could violently smash your head into a car window instead?
The movie ends on a cliffhanger, so clearly there’s a plan in mind for where the paper-thin premise of the Bird Box franchise is eventually to go. Maybe the next one will be Bird Box Munich, and after that a return to the states with Bird Box Cleveland. Maybe eventually we’ll get Bird Box in Space. At least the settings will be different, because the plots almost certainly won’t.
Bird Box Barcelona is now streaming on Netflix.