Bird Box Barcelona (2023) Review

Five years ago, the Sandra Bullock-starred Bird Box made history as one of the most-streamed Netflix movies of all time, clocking at a whopping 282 million hours of viewership during its first 28 days. That post-apocalyptic horror thriller boasts Bullock’s commanding lead performance and an intriguing don’t-look premise, even though the overall execution didn’t quite reach its fullest potential.

Adapted from Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel of the same name, there was a sequel called Malorie (the name of Bullock’s character) published in 2020. While it may seem like a shoo-in that the streaming giant will be fast-tracking a feature-length sequel, especially given the success of the first movie, they decided to go for another route. A route that has nothing to do with a direct sequel to the 2018 movie but rather a spin-off set within the same but different timeline of the Bird Box universe. And instead of an English-language feature, Bird Box Barcelona takes place in the said location largely spoken in Spanish.

The story goes like this: Nine months after the malevolent force of unknown origin drives everyone crazy to commit violent suicides as a result of making eye contact, the Bird Box spin-off follows an engineer named Sebastián (Mario Casas) and his young daughter, Anna (Alejandra Howard) trying their best to survive the ordeal. They soon join a small group of survivors — a result that subsequently leads to one of the most riveting moments revolving around a bus hijack.

Leonardo Sbaraglia in Netflix's "Bird Box Barcelona" (2023)

Long story short, the story moves on with Sebastián meeting another group of survivors and among them includes an English psychologist named Claire (Georgina Campbell, best known for last year’s Barbarian), a little German girl Sofia (Naila Schuberth) and a pizza delivery man Octavio (Diego Calva of Babylon fame). Their goal is to navigate through the ruins of Barcelona in blindfolds to seek refuge on Montjuic Castle accessible only via cable car.

But since this is a Bird Box movie we are talking about, the journey naturally doesn’t go well as planned. This is especially true with Sebastián’s hidden agenda turns out to be a deuteragonist of sorts, making his character all the more intriguing than just a mere heroic-style protagonist saving the day. The unpredictable nature of his character also leads to several interesting questions as we watch the story unfolds. For instance, is he actually a saviour or a good guy within the group of survivors? Or is he a manipulative kind trying to mislead everyone?

It sure sounds promising on paper but Alex Pastor and David Pastor, the directing duo behind 2009’s Carriers and Netflix’s The Occupant, do not really know what to do with his character. Frankly, there are many ways they could have made him an unconventionally interesting character. And yet, they chose to settle down with the utmost conventional depiction possible: a reluctant character who simply goes through the motion by convincing the people (survivors) to see things “differently”. It doesn’t help either when Mario Casas’s lead performance lacks the necessary dramatic and emotional gravitas to make me care about his mission or whatever agenda he’s involved in.

The same goes for the rest of the characters that barely made a lasting impression while the Pastors, who also co-wrote the screenplay, could only muster a few worthwhile moments throughout the otherwise typical post-apocalyptic horror thriller. The aforementioned bus hijack scene aside, Bird Box Barcelona deserves equal mention for some of its grisly suicide set pieces (the mass felo-de-se in the subway station comes to mind) with the help of Daniel Aranyó’s atmospheric cinematography and Zeltia Montes’ foreboding score. The first movie at least benefits from Sandra Bullock’s central performance and I’m not saying this because of her star power but more of her overall performance with a solid dramatic weight.

Alex and David Pastor may have good eyes for delivering ominous post-apocalyptic thrills and suspense. But if Netflix is going to build a successful and more importantly, sustainable Bird Box cinematic universe, it definitely needs a better storytelling hook and well-established characters that we can root for.

Bird Box Barcelona is currently streaming on Netflix.