Bird Box: Barcelona Review: Netflix At Last Has Its Own Final Destination

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This review has a mild Bird Box: Barcelona spoiler.

Is Bird Box a movie franchise? More precisely, is Bird Box essentially a shared cinematic universe? Netflix obviously thinks so, as this weekend’s Bird Box: Barcelona acts as both a spinoff and a naked bit of franchise world-building after the original Bird Box movie took streaming subscribers by storm… for a couple of weeks in December 2018, at any rate. Yet I might argue that it’s unclear whether that film scored with audiences because of its grindhouse-adjacent premise or simply due to it being a high-concept movie starring Sandra Bullock that was released during the doldrums of a holiday season.

Since then we’ve seen a lot of Netflix thrillers led by movie stars taking a streaming paycheck, and few have had the impact of Bird Box. Maybe that’s why the film’s ostensible sequel is trying to do the same thing again, only this time without Bullock. On paper I’d be skeptical about such an approach capturing lightning in the bottle a second time; and now after seeing the finished Bird Box: Barcelona, rekindling that zeitgeist appeal seems downright staggering. This thing is certainly bigger and expands on the Bird Box lore, but its appeal largely relies on a twist that, at the end of the day, turns out to be less an ingenious turning of the tables and more an excuse to wallow in just how gruesome the death scenes can get.

The twist in question—which is impossible to not mention while analyzing the film—occurs inside of the first 15 minutes. When the picture opens, we think we are witnessing a doppelgänger of Bullock’s beleaguered parent in the 2018 picture. Sebastián (Mario Casas) is a desperate father stranded during an alien (or maybe spiritual?) reckoning that’s turned the world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which creatures that are never shown cause most folks who lay eyes on them to kill themselves in ceaselessly inventive ways. In this nightmare, Sebastián only wants to protect his little girl Anna (Alejandra Howard).

Yet therein lies the most horrible secret about Sebastián, a man who deceives everyone: strangers, the audience, and even himself. As it turns out, he has seen “the creatures” before, and like the Tom Hollander character in the 2018 original, in his mind’s eye they appear to him as beautiful angels. Even his dead daughter, Anna, appears as a ghost (at least in his mind), urging him to save the souls of others by tricking them into laying eyes on these unseen creatures.

It’s the most interesting aspect of Bird Box: Barcelona that on the surface would seem to open the story up, as we are teased to consider this monstrous world from the point-of-view of one of the hunters who relentlessly pursued Bullock in the last film. In execution, however, it ultimately becomes much the same story, only with a bigger body count and variety of suicides as Sebastián falls into a survivor group with its own little girl (Naila Schuberth) and a maternal figure named Claire (Georgina Campbell). Together, they inspire Sebastián to remember his own better angels and work to save a child at all costs in a search for salvation.

Written and directed by genre veterans David and Àlex Pastor, Bird Box: Barcelona moves at a brisker pace than its fairly languid 2018 predecessor, getting to the shock of its opening reveal about Sebastián’s nature and then galloping toward the next set piece of mass death as quickly as possible. In this single respect, I would argue it improves on the 2018 film, which often stalled for time in its claustrophobic sets where great actors tended to repeat the same scene several times over.

However, the 2018 film, which was directed by Susanne Bier, had a lot of great actors; the 2023 edition’s ensemble is also nothing to sneer at, but it is populated more with character thespians and up-and-comers than box office favorites. In fact, the film appears to have been shot before Campbell broke out in last year’s Barbarian. Babylon discovery Diego Calva also appears in a much smaller, paper thin role. But then all the roles are fairly flat; they’re stock characters who might round out the background zombie fodder in any episode of The Walking Dead or The Last of Us, and most of them don’t add anything to the film other than excuse for gore effects.

In this way, Bird Box: Barcelona is both truer to its genre roots and is also likely less appealing to a mainstream audience who might’ve been drawn to the last movie because it was marketed around Bullock playing a strong mama bear. By contrast, much of the creativity in Barcelona seems channeled toward how everyone dies around this film’s cub, with the manner of deaths selected by Sebastián’s early victims being reminiscent of TikTokers obsessed with outdoing what the last bloke did on a boat challenge. You think sticking your face against a speeding tire is hardcore?! Get a load of me!

It’s vaguely reminiscent of the excesses in the Final Destination flicks, which turned slaughter into camp, or even the similarly themed The Happening from M. Night Shyamalan. However, Barcelona is a house divided against itself. It features these grisly demises, yet will likely still leave gorehounds unsatisfied, as the film demurs away from the carnage it unmistakably courts. In this way, the film feels like it’s ashamed of its own instincts, and unsure if it wants to appeal to genre enthusiasts or the multitude of folks who tuned in last time to see why Bullock looked so terrified behind that blindfold.

My hunch is it will appeal to almost no one at all, especially when the third act turns into a tedious retread of the last movie only with a cliffhanger sequel for more Bird Box-ing spinoffs to come. That seems fairly optimistic for such a downer of a series.

Bird Box: Barcelona is streaming now.

The post Bird Box: Barcelona Review: Netflix At Last Has Its Own Final Destination appeared first on Den of Geek.

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