This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Bird Box Barcelona is a great idea, but Netflix’s attempt to spin off one of its biggest hits ever can’t seem to find its own way.
There’s a horror sub-genre called sensory deprivation horror. In it, fear stems from the characters’ inability to experience a particular sense, often sight or hearing. Famous examples of this genre include Don’t Breathe (2016), A Quiet Place (2018), and Wait Until Dark (1967). To work, these films rely on impeccable pacing and careful crafting of suspense to effectively convey limited perception and its consequences. However, Netflix’s latest spin-off, Bird Box Barcelona, falls short. Despite exploring intriguing themes and a competent cast, the unevenly-paced film ultimately lacks the necessary thrills.
Directed and written by Álex and David Pastor, Bird Box Barcelona is a spin-off of the 2018 surprise hit Bird Box. This new offering doesn’t advance the previous plot or take influence from Malorie, Josh Malerman sequel novel to what the first film was based on. Instead, Bird Box Barcelona behaves as a companion movie that further explores the original premise: a world where a mysterious alien species invades Earth and forces everyone who sees it to take their own life. This time, the action takes place in Spain.
The film introduces us to Sebastián (Mario Casas), who wanders through a ravaged Barcelona with his daughter Anna (Alejandra Howard). Just like in the previous film, they have to wear eye coverings to protect themselves from the aliens and slowly meet different groups of survivors. However, these encounters often turn into violent occurrences. When one of the groups they join decides to try to take a young German girl named Sofia (Naila Schuberth) back to her family, Sebastián will question everything that he believes.
A story of belief in a time of crisis.
This process of questioning is the most interesting part of the film. Álex and David Pastor try to elevate a standard post-apocalyptic story into a meditation on religious radicalization. Throughout constant flashbacks, we become witnesses to the impact of the alien invasion. In addition to seeing the crumbling of society as pandemonium and violence reign, we also see Mario’s embrace of a system of belief that has a clear perspective on the role of aliens. One that progresses from a belief taken in the midst of chaos and grief to a pervasive dogma that informs every decision of his life.
While trauma and grief are essential themes in many horror films, it’s more fascinating to see a film like this tackling the impact of radicalization and what it means to live with constant challenges to your own morality. But the execution of the story limits whatever commentary the film tries to convey. There’s an uneven sense of pacing hampering almost all of the film’s most compelling moments. Lengthy sequences prove inconsequential to the main plot and overstuff it. This makes the direction of the movie hard to follow, and even when a coherent arc appears to emerge, there’s no time to really see it through. As a result, the third act sprints past us, leaving the audience unclear about the antagonist’s intentions and development.
A thriller with too few thrills.
Much like its predecessor, Bird Box Barcelona has an ineffective approach to its sensory deprivation horror. While similar films like A Quiet Place immerse you in the world of the characters by plunging you into the same silence they experience, thus better understanding the stakes, Bird Box Barcelona aims to strike a balance between placing you in the characters’ experience while also creating tension by letting the audience know something that the characters don’t.
The Pastors’ writing still doesn’t show the aliens, relying on lackluster visual effects to announce their presence, nor does it limit the audience’s perspective (although that’s hard in a visual medium). All of this results in a thriller with very few thrills, where horror quickly turns into frustration. No matter how much disbelief the audience suspends, it is hard to have an emotional reaction to such an underwhelming portrayal of horror. This becomes particularly jarring when Sebastian and his newfound group start making their way to the Montjuïc Castle, where they suspect Sofia’s family might be.
Despite its lackluster effects and wobbly structure, Bird Box Barcelona somewhat holds together thanks to effective performances by Casas, Howard, Georgina Campbell, and Diego Calva. Some of the set pieces, especially as the invasion begins, are good fun, and seeing the real-life locations in Catalonia was exciting. It’s just shame that the film, like its characters, keeps us mostly in the dark.
Bird Box Barcelona is available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.
BIRD BOX BARCELONA - 4/10