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Bird Box Barcelona

Early into “Bird Box Barcelona,” a set-up foretells the shallow test of fate the film will attempt. The workmanlike, passable Spanish-set sequel to the apocalyptic horror sci-fi flick “Bird Box” opens as Sebastián (Mario Casas) and his daughter Anna (Alejandra Howard) are celebrating her birthday by roller skating. Afterward, they’re jumped for their food by a blind trio of goons. Later, they encounter a group of scavengers who plead for help. Sebastián tells them he’s a former engineer and knows where there’s a generator. He just needs shelter for the night. 

The group takes him in and mends his wounds. While sleeping in the comforts of a depot, someone hijacks the bus they’re slumbering in, exposing everyone to the open. If you’ve seen the first “Bird Box,” you know the deal: There are creatures that seem to live in the air, and when you look at them, they whisper your deepest desires to you so that you might die by suicide. The narrative now asks, “Is Sebastián the shepherd or the wolf?” While co-directors David Pastor and Àlex Pastor are intrigued by injecting religiosity into an apocalyptic narrative, their instincts lack flair or a point. This version feels like it’s trying to reengineer the prior film’s success without any of the originality. 

"Bird Box Barcelona" takes inspiration from a tiny nugget from the first movie by Susanne Bier. Some people can look upon the creatures without later turning to self-harm. Instead, they’ve formed a kind of cult around the creatures. Seven months ago, Sebastián had a run-in with Barcelona’s version of that clan. It takes time before we learn exactly what happened. But in the meantime, we figure out the mythology that drives Sebastián: He believes these creatures are seraphs. Not only that, he gets a kick out of seeing the celestial orb that seems to float up to the heavens from the people who die. 

Like many films, “Bird Box Barcelona” advertises itself as a narrative about grief, covering the subject in the blandest ways. Before long, Sebastián discovers another group, this time led by the British-Spaniard Claire (Georgina Campbell). She happens to be dressed in the same color scheme as Sandra Bullock in the first film, an all-too-on-the-nose attempt to recreate that magic. The primary figures among Claire’s companions are Octavia (an underused Diego Calva), a lost German girl looking for her mother, Sofia (Naila Schuberth), and an elderly couple, Isabel (Lola Dueñas) and Roberto (Gonzalo de Castro). Nearly all of them have lost somebody, which makes them vulnerable when the creatures whisper in their ear with the voice of long-gone loved ones. 

The script by the Pastors (with Josh Malerman's novel still an inspiration) skims the surface of grief. Their film says that the trauma wrought by grief might push you to lose your senses, decimate your logic, and maybe even make you go on a religious crusade. But that sense isn’t deeply felt in any of the characters. Instead, we’re given their base-level tragedy and not much else. Outside of Sebastián, are any of them religious? Do they blame God for what happened? The film is in such a rush to create a quick binary between Sebastián’s mission and this group of people that it doesn’t bother to get us to care about them. 

It doesn’t help that much of the mystery and intrigue that accompanied the concept from the previous “Bird Box” evaporates here. Rather the primary goal is for these survivors to trace their way through Barcelona to a set of gondolas that’ll take them to Montjuic Castle, where there are rumors that survivors are hiding out. Sofia’s mom might even be among them. 

Along the way, Sebastián must, of course, grapple with his faith. But that internal conflict lacks dramatic tension. The same can be said about the horror aspect. “Bird Box Barcelona” is cut with assured hands by editors Luis de la Madrid and Martí Roca and shot with a watchful eye by cinematographer Daniel Aranyó, but there’s a general dearth of shocks. That bite is even absent from the film’s final race to the gondolas, where Sebastián and the survivors must square off with the head of this doomsday cult. Its leader, a bearded man with a third eye branded on his hand, is so barely sketched he might as well be a figment of Sebastián’s mind.      

There’s nothing inherently bad in the Pastors’ film. It’s competently made with the general sheen you expect from a bigger budget. You are, however, left scratching your head about what another sequel could bring that this one clearly couldn’t. No one in this cast is as dynamic as Bullock, nor is anything as tightly conceived as in the prior film. If seeing is believing, “Bird Box Barcelona” doesn’t have much to show.

On Netflix tomorrow, July 14th.

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Film Credits

Bird Box Barcelona movie poster

Bird Box Barcelona (2023)

Rated R

110 minutes

Cast

Mario Casas as Sebastián

Alejandra Howard as Anna

Georgina Campbell as Claire

Naila Schuberth as Sofia

Leonardo Sbaraglia as Padre Esteban

Diego Calva as Octavio

Director

Writer (based on the novel by)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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