Most films with two-hour runtimes risk being unnecessarily bloated and, in turn, earning the wrath of audiences with dwindling attention spans. Rarely do we come across cinematic experiences in the mainstream realm of entertainment, where the stories are so deftly woven together that 120 minutes seem to float by without you stealing glances at the clock and pausing the film to check how much is still left — that is the challenge that faced Netflix‘s Bird Box Barcelona.
Álex and David Pastor’s Bird Box Barcelona plunges viewers bang into the middle of an apocalyptic world set-up in the 2014 Susanne Bier-directed Bird Box, with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on Josh Malerman’s novel of the same name. Bird Box Barcelona takes us right to the beginning of things through flashbacks—pretty standard fare as far as narrative style choices go, one that is also used in the original film—but still manages to leave enough unexplained to set the stage for future spin-offs.
Despite being touted as a sequel, Bird Box Barcelona is more of a spin-off prequel, set nine months after the apocalypse has set in, while Bird Box took us five years into the journey.
For the first half-hour or so, Bird Box Barcelona is deftly paced. As the world succumbs to fear and pandemonium, the Pastors take us through the desperate struggle for survival faced by the central father-daughter duo, portrayed impeccably by Mario Casas and Alejandra Howard. Their journey intertwines with other survivors, their collective efforts forming a precarious alliance in this dystopian landscape.
Noteworthy among the film’s strengths is its exploration of religious fanaticism with the rise of false prophets harping on about twisted miracles in the wake of this cataclysmic downfall of civilisation. Drawing upon the evocative imagery of Judgment Day and biblically accurate angels, Bird Box Barcelona weaves an allegorical tapestry that lends some gravitas to the story. Unlike Bird Box, the point of view shifts from survivors to the fallen, providing a more rounded idea of how things might have gone down.
Bird Box Barcelona manages to navigate many of the pitfalls of sequels but eventually drowns in clichéd action sequences that could have been edited far more tightly.
While we never see the creatures causing all the havoc, we get theories about who they might be. They are described as quantum beings who can torture their human targets, akin to the Jabberjays in the Hunger Games trilogy. Yet, disappointingly, the film neglects to comprehensively understand the creatures’ motivations or purpose. By sidestepping having to give life to our imaginary terrors built through the suspense provided by absence, the film ends up with a conflicted idea of the monsters—how can they arrive on high-rise rooftops, seemingly from the sky, if they have to take the stairs to follow their prey? Why do blacked-out windows fool them if they can open doors?
As the film progresses, the once-promising trajectory becomes hampered. What could have been a tightly woven 90-minute escapade devolves into a meandering tale that struggles to maintain its initial momentum.
Though briefly touched upon, the film merely grazes the surface, offering a superficial understanding of the military’s role in this post-apocalyptic world. If that part of the story is merely being kept for a sequel, then it defeats the purpose of making a film that is a whole experience on its own. It becomes but a puzzle piece in the grand sequence of things. Alas, this is how the Marvelisation of modern filmmaking goes. Bird Box Barcelona has been forced to follow the same pattern of propagation to bet on the longevity of its success.
The star-studded ensemble of Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, and John Malkovich elevated the original Bird Box, compensating for its narrative shortcomings. Unfortunately, Bird Box Barcelona lacks the same meticulousness in crafting its characters, leaving us detached from their losses. The stakes fail to reach the same level of intensity, as the predictable survival outcomes diminish the suspense. While the film showcases moments of intrigue, it falls short of creating the emotional resonance and tension that made its predecessor a more gripping experience.