Starring Sandra Bullock, the post-apocalyptic horror based on the book by Josh Malerman proved so popular it inspired memes on the internet. Legions of people attempted tasks blindfolded, like the characters in the film who can only traverse the outside world with their eyes shielded. Why? Because an alien entity is causing anyone who sees it to commit suicide in horrifyingly violent ways.
Now, we have Bird Box Barcelona, a sequel/spin-off written and directed by brothers Alex and David Pastor that, as the title reveals, transposes the action to Spain. It’s a father-daughter story, primarily, with Sebastian (Mario Casas) and his offspring Anna (Alejandra Howard) trying to survive in this treacherous landscape where nobody can be trusted.
Sebastian doesn’t wear a blindfold, but instead sports black goggles that look more suitable for welding than avoiding eye-contact with dangerous beasties. Thanks to some nifty visual effects, Barcelona is a city that’s been ransacked, looted and left to rot – although it’s not quite as visceral as John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place or even HBO’s recent take on video game The Last of Us, both of which also gave us a vivid look at a future wasteland.
Still, the Pastors take great delight in showing the gorier aspects of the story through shocking death scenes.
With a back-and-forth structure, Bird Box Barcelona flips between when Sebastian and Anna are together and nine months later when the two have been separated. It’s during these segments that we see Sebastian team up with a group of survivors, including Claire (Georgina Campbell), a British psychologist who has taken responsibility for Sofia (Naila Schuberth), an eight-year-old German tourist who is alone and unable to find her family.
Sebastian’s need to help protect Sofia comes from his own feelings of failure as a father, though, even the most willing knight in shining armour will struggle in this environment, where the only true safe refuge is below ground.
Without venturing into spoiler territory, he also has an unusual quality that may help him survive. But will it? “I thought I was chosen but I was just broken,” he says, in a moment of self-awareness.
Casas, who starred in the Pastors’ 2020 film The Occupant for Netflix, impresses as Sebastian, who is both heroic and vulnerable. Likewise British actress Campbell, of TV drama Broadchurch, is a competent addition to the cast and her relationship with Sofia brings some much-needed emotion.
Mexican actor Diego Calva, who made such an impression alongside Brad Pitt in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, also pops up as fellow survivor Octavio.
The Barcelona-born Pastors have experience in both European cinema and Hollywood, where they scripted Self/less with Ryan Reynolds and Out of the Dark with Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman.
As such, Bird Box Barcelona would seem an apt project for their skills, and there are certainly several set-pieces that really shine. In the most standout, Sebastian takes control of a bus inside a huge hangar/warehouse, careering the vehicle around this vast space as he attempts to burst out of the building.
It’s a thrilling sequence, brilliantly staged by the stunt team, but Bird Box Barcelona doesn’t have enough of them to make it a worthy follow-up to the 2018 original.
There’s little new about the story and it adds little to the mythology. In the run-up to the release, advance word claimed this was an expansion of its predecessor, hinting that there may be further films in development.
But if this is how they plan to proceed, simply switching the action to a different city, it’ll soon lead the franchise down a blind alley.