Bird Box: Barcelona 2023 Movie Review
In 2018, Netflix’s Bird Box adapted the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman about a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by strange creatures who drive mad anyone who looks at them. Despite an exciting concept, the movie failed to impress critics who pointed out how thin Bird Box’s script was. Nevertheless, the film became one of the biggest hits in the streamer’s history thanks to Sandra Bullock’s star power and viral challenges that asked people to do all sorts of things with blindfolds. Unsurprisingly, Netflix has now decided to turn the movie into a potential franchise with Bird Box Barcelona marking the first spin-off to hit the streamer. While the cynical among us might wonder how a franchise with such a shaky start could justify its existence, this film proves you can learn much from past mistakes. Not only does Bird Box Barcelona improve on every aspect of the original’s formula, it uses the same horror concept to tell a story with a surprisingly strong emotional hook.
Like the original Bird Box, the Spanish-language spin-off mostly follows a group of survivors trying to escape a hostile environment with the hope of finding a safe haven. The movie uses a thrilling opening sequence to lay the foundations of the post-apocalyptic world, explaining the rules that govern the creatures to viewers who need a reminder. While the creatures’ origin is unknown, almost everyone who sees them has the impulse to kill themselves. The few survivors have their brains twisted and start hunting other people, forcing them to open their eyes and witness the beautiful glory of their supposed saviors. So, to stay alive, people wander the streets of abandoned cities with blindfolds, scavenging for resources while avoiding the creatures and the zealots. It’s no wonder trust is in short supply.
In the first Bird Box, most of the action happens on the outskirts as Bullock’s Malorie tries to guide two children to a refuge in the woods. The change of scenery in Bird Box Barcelona immediately helps the story as it’s more impactful to see the effects of the widespread destruction in the setting of a vast metropolis. In addition, by embracing the multicultural life of Barcelona, the spin-off can also introduce a diverse cast of characters that highly improves on the tiny and typical group of survivors from the first film. Furthermore, while people understand each other a little too well in Bird Box Barcelona despite their nationalities, linguistic barriers move the plot forward, effectively adding some realism to the spin-off.
Bird Box Barcelona also keeps the first movie’s flashback structure, exploring the past of the new protagonist Sebastián (Mario Casas). However, there’s a massive difference in how these flashbacks are introduced. In Bird Box, the present is condensed into a dangerous boat trip downriver, constantly interrupted by flashbacks. Bird Box Barcelona, on the other hand, has a more complex story, with a lot of breathing space to introduce flashbacks. That allows the spin-off to keep its pacing while still telling two parallel stories, a feat the original movie failed to achieve.
It also helps that Sebastián is a better protagonist than Bullock’s Malorie. While Bullock is unquestionably the highlight of the original film, her character was unoriginal at best. Due to a clever twist in the first act of Bird Box Barcelona, Sebastián becomes a unique kind of survivor, subverting expectations for the franchise and post-apocalyptic media in general. While the spin-off threads familiar paths through the subgenre, there is still the opportunity to observe the events with a fresh perspective, which helps elevate Bird Box Barcelona’s predictable script.
While a post-apocalyptic movie has to be entertaining – and Bird Box Barcelona most certainly is – due to the oversaturation of the subgenre, we also expect these stories to have something to say. Fortunately, instead of using the creatures as a simple plot device as the first movie did, Bird Box Barcelona leans into how the presence of incomprehensible forces can lead to religious questions. As such, Bird Box Barcelona surprisingly raises a debate about how blind faith can be as dangerous as the monsters preying on humanity.
While Bird Box Barcelona has its fair share of thrilling set pieces, what keeps us engaged is how it incorporates the nuances of religious faith to build a poignant metaphor of how we ultimately decide what we want to see. Even as the film is not contrary to the expression of faith, it still alerts the audience to how dangerous organized religion can be. Though believing in a higher power can be an essential tool for survival, using these ideas to justify the abuse of others frequently feeds a never-ending cycle of violence.
Things get messier in Bird Box Barcelona’s final stretch when the movie juggles the continued metaphor and the need to offer a satisfying conclusion to the audience. At this point, alliances are changed with little care for coherence, and obvious events are treated as big revelations. It’s a classic ending by the metrics of Hollywood blockbuster media, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Even so, after showing how fascinating its post-apocalyptic world can be, it’s a shame that Bird Box Barcelona wraps things up so tediously.
The movie also ends with the promise of a sequel, pointing out how there are still new ways to approach the franchise’s post-apocalyptic universe. As interesting as this tease might be, it takes over the narrative while we just get ready to say goodbye. The abundance of sequels has been plaguing the industry for a while now as each movie seems more concerned about teasing future projects than delivering a good story. While Bird Box Barcelona is only following the trend, it is too bad to see the spin-off try so hard to keep fans excited about the next chapter that it undercuts the emotional weight of its ending. So, while the film surpasses the original in every sense, it still gets dragged down by the needs of a franchise.