To be honest, I don’t know that I’ll ever learn to really appreciate horror or suspense movies. Maybe some people love the adrenaline that comes from a jumpscare or getting sucked into the tension of a scene, but as soon as my fight or flight instinct is triggered, I just want to get out of there. If the film is thematically interesting, like Jordan Peele’s works, I’ll do my best to make it through, but that’s my limit.
It was lucky, then, that I found Bird Box: Barcelona as tolerable as I did. Not because it developed its themes well, unfortunately, but rather because it failed to be that suspenseful or horrifying. In the end, this movie seems like it's just trying to cash in on the name recognition of the first Bird Box film rather than developing itself into a worthwhile film on its own, though it manages to keep itself together just enough to be tolerable. So let’s shed some light on this film and take a look at just where it lacks vision, as well as the few moments that saved it in the end.
Awkward and Stumbling
When it comes down to it, the main problem this film has is making the audience feel anything for its characters. Throughout the film we’re introduced to a variety of people, learning about who they are and the struggles they have had both before and since their world effectively came to an end. But that’s the problem - we hear about these struggles, but we never really see how they have affected the characters. It’s as though someone were telling you about their mother’s death completely deadpan - not only is it uncomfortable, you’re also never really going to care that much since they don’t seem to either. Even the main character, Sebastián, played by Mario Casas, fails to elicit much empathy despite the audience witnessing the tragedies of his life. Altogether, every death and tragic turn falls flat because the film relies too much on the audience feeling sad because that’s the “correct” reaction rather than actually taking the time to elicit a genuine emotion.
The lack of connection between the audience and the characters wasn’t the movie’s only failure, though. While some shocking twists landed well enough, most were played too sloppily to give the audience any payoff. The worst example of this was probably the reveal that Sebastián’s daughter Anna was actually a hallucination used to control him. While it was intentionally clear that she wasn't real before it was directly stated, it was easy for the audience to figure out far too early on, ruining any potential suspense and severely impacting the movie’s pacing. In fact, probably one of the worst flaws of this film was just that, its pacing. Once the film started to trip up, it never stopped, and ultimately that meant suspense that never built, deaths that never mattered, and surprise twists that could be seen from miles away.
One of the most painful things about watching this film is that there were plot points that really could have been something, and in the end it's thanks to them that the film is still basically tolerable to watch. For example, while there wasn’t enough horror or suspense to send me running, there were still soe moments that left me feeling deeply uneasy. Some are obvious, like watching Georgina Campbell’s Claire feel her way around a room, unaware of the bloated corpse keeled over just feet away from her, a simultaneously effective and creative way to visually remind the audience of the horrors of losing their sight. What really got to me, though, was far more subtle : Claire and Sophia. Their mere existence introduced a new kind of horror, the horror of surviving the end of the world in a foreign country. When everything you have ever known has changed forever, it’s hard to make it worse, but losing the basic comfort of your native language? Maybe it’s just due to my own experiences living abroad, but it left me with a lingering sense of dread that would have been fascinating to explore more deeply.
The other major saving grace of this movie was how it added to the first movie’s lore, especially by focusing on a different kind of protagonist - a seer. That Sebastián was actually working with the mysterious forces, forcing more people to see them, was one of the surprise reveals which actually landed, and it offered the film the hook it desperately needed. Seeing exactly how the creatures manipulated him, both through his love for his daughter and through his faith, offers a new perspective into the movie’s terrifying universe and adds freshness to the recycled concept. While it would have been far more intriguing to see a Sebastián who never got a redemption arc, that kind of risk is probably too much of a risk to expect of a film that’s just riding on the coattails of its predecessor. Ultimately, it’s true that the film wasted a lot of good chances, but still, Bird Box: Barcelona still did just enough right to keep the film from being a total flop.
To See or Not to See?
Given that many of directors David and Àlex Pastor’s films hover in the 6-7/10 range on Peliplat it's not a huge surprise that this film is pretty middle of the road. It manages to pull itself together enough to be entertaining, but with so many missed beats it never quite reaches a point where it could be called “good”. To be fair, any suspense or horror sequel (though this is technically a spinoff) is bound to suffer to a certain degree, as it's hard to strike a balance between adding something to the original while also maintaining the fear of the unknown. Still, though, there was potential, it was just disappointing to see it wasted.
Altogether, this movie is bound to appeal to fans of the first film and anyone who is looking for a tolerable suspense movie to pass the time. Personally, this isn’t a movie I would watch again, and if I could go back in time I choose to put it on in the background while I busied myself with something else. But sometimes that’s all a movie needs to be - just a light distraction to pass the time. Indeed, it even seems rather fitting that a Bird Box film should go mostly unseen.
Watch Bird Box: Barcelona's trailer here, or watch the whole movie on Netflix.