We’ll do the tally for you: no Sandra Bullock, just a few birds (and not in boxes), lots of blindfolds, and the singular desire to make the public detest humanity (further). Such is the movie math at play in David Pastor and Àlex Pastor’s ‘Bird Box Barcelona’, a continuation (if not an actual sequel) to Netflix’s 2018 smash hit ‘Bird Box’. While Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic drama featured, yes, a lot of Sandra Bullock and birds (in boxes), it also brought with it an affection for the better side of humanity. At the very least, the thriller made the point that some people are worth saving, especially if they have to go through crazy and intense ordeals to get there. The companion film to The Pastors, co-written with “Bird Box” novelist Josh Malerman, has no room for such niceties.
Like many post-lockdown features, “Bird Box Barcelona” leans heavily on its own timely! elements, including a heavy-handed joke about the nefarious power of misinformation, the way trauma warps our brains, and how difficult it can be to evolve positively in the face of upheaval. This means attributing a huge amount of – ultimately, maybe not even real? – background of the nightmarish entity that destroyed humanity, including where it came from and what it wants from us. While the first film acknowledged that the power of what we don’t know makes for a much better time at the movies, “Bird Box Barcelona” is consumed with explaining everything, even as the final revelations seem intent on unpacking all that new information.
It begins with something familiar: a father (Mario Casas) and his young daughter (Alejandra Howard) go for a ride on an abandoned ice rink. Eyes closed tightly, Anna asks her cautious father Sebastian the perpetual question: “Can I open my eyes now?” And she can, because Sebastian has made sure that no one else is with them, no other person, no evil entity, and so he and his only remaining loved one could enjoy some fun. Whatever horrific event brought to Earth the invisible villains of the “Bird Box” franchise, invisible specters who, when viewed head-on, do not something so terrible that it inspires people who see them to kill themselves instantly and violently – that was a while ago but Sebastian and Anna have adapted. A type of.
After their brief foray on wheels, the two set off towards a ruined Barcelona, where they are almost instantly accosted by a trio of blind (!) thieves who take their meager food and flee, leaving a bloodthirsty Sebastian struggling to keep it. Together. But Sebastian has a plan—one that we soon discover he’s used many times since this particular pandemic broke out—and it involves finding “good people” to help him and a hidden Anna. But what if Sebastian himself is not a good person?
Fans of the first film will likely be thrilled by the world the Shepherds immerse us in, including a series of impressive overhead shots showing ruined cityscapes, from broken highways to crashed jet planes, a body-strewn beach, a strewn with bodies, sides of buildings strewn with bodies (you get the idea). Less effective is a thumping flashback that takes us nine months earlier, when a then-clean Sebastian was just trying to get through a seemingly normal day before the whole world went to hell. The flashback provides ample context as to why Sebastian has begun infiltrating various “good people” groups, not always with the best of intentions, but even that backstory does little to make us empathize with him.
Maybe that’s just how things will go from now on. Maybe we’ve seen enough bad behavior, nefarious misinformation, and selfish attitudes IRL to suck our ability to give in to them on the big screen. Yes, Sebastian has suffered, but so has everyone else in the fictional world of “Bird Box,” and while his chilling plans continue to unfold, they don’t make for thrilling entertainment, they just make for unpleasant content, the sort of thing that might inspire you to yell at your TV before going ahead and turning it off.
Even for those who stick by, the twists and new rules that Pastors and Malerman attempt to define for Sebastian and the many people (including very underutilized Diego Calva and Georgina Campbell) he meets along the way don’t make much sense. . The decision to “see” how the entities see adds nothing, swapping dogs for birds is just another way to add more harrowing gore to the film, and the faux-religious angle that overtakes its narrative (and, apparently apparently, Sebastian himself) is very thin.
“Bird Box” worked because it found terror in the unknown, while its first sequel is forced to pile answer after answer, even if they are ultimately false, even if they are mostly flimsy, even if they leave the audience in reality praying for the end of humanity (or at least this cinema strain on them). When a bird appears – in a box, to boot! – “Bird Box Barcelona” has strayed so far from what made the first movie interesting, scary, and yes, timely! that remains just a distant memory, as if someone has blindfolded our collective cinematic memory, with no real reason, with no answers to be found.
“Bird Box Barcelona” will start streaming on Netflix on Friday July 14th.