Like many sci-fi disaster stories, 2018’s Bird Box has a simple list of dos and don'ts. Do keep your eyes covered at all times. Never go outside without eye protection, or otherworldly beings will take over your mind. If so, you will meet a rather gruesome end by your hand. This much is spelled out to the audience at the beginning of director Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Josh Malerman’s book when a mother bluntly tells her children, “Do not take your blindfolds off, or you’ll die.”
A zombie outbreak or an onslaught of aliens usually sends the world into neverending chaos. Much of it has to do with the inflictions themselves and as an uncovering of humankind’s “do anything nature to survive.” When there are shared resources that get removed (or, in this case, an essential sense), the survivalists inside us sometimes cling to the very worst things to make sense of everything. This is the angle that Bird Box Barcelona looks to approach its base from – yes when humans get desperate, decency goes out the window.
The film begins with a father named Sebastian (Mario Casas) and his daughter Anna (Alejandra Howard) in an empty roller skating rink, trying to find a semblance of happiness. It’s been nine months since the creatures have wreaked havoc on Earth, and society has been destabilized. Even with that brief happy moment, the danger is not too far behind. Sebastian gets beaten up and robbed by three blind marauders. Injuries be damned; he and Anna have to navigate the dangers of outside. At that moment, Sebastian finds a hesitant, but eventually friendly group of survivors that agree to take him back to their hideout spot.
All the ducks look in a row – they have a doctor, a mechanic, and a full assortment of food. Given his prior career as an engineer, Sebastian tells them he knows where a generator is. But Sebastian is not wholly the selfless person he’s making himself out to be, and Anna, for some reason, is ok with it. Directors Álex and David Pastor provide the audience with a flawed main character and add another element of the folklore of the entities. Concerning Sebastian himself, many flashbacks to when his life turned upside down is inter-spliced within the main narrative of Bird Box Barcelona – at times; they can feel chopped up.
They are supposed to invoke sympathy for his character, and some of the circumstances that happened in the past could warrant that. However, there doesn’t feel like a complexity exists where Sebastian’s choices to put people in danger start and where his remorse ends. This epiphany happens way too late in the narrative in a simplistic fashion. The most interesting question Barcelona raises exists within another character – a rogue pastor (played by Leonardo Sbaraglia) who somehow believes the destruction the entities are causing is a sign of God himself.
Hints exist of a cult that operates, painting an eye in ash on people’s foreheads and letting the entities take them. Another thread reveals that some people can see, and perhaps the life forms using them to do their bidding. Those are good ways to forge a path for this story to venture beyond the surface level – but it doesn’t get past a certain point. Instead, it hints at further installments while only providing a morsel of the mystery.
Sebastian eventually comes across another group of survivors comprised of a psychologist named Claire (Georgina Campbell), a physicist named Octavio (Diego Calva), and others who are more skeptical of this newcomer. Some tense scenes exist, but they fall away to a more overly gory style to show us how humans succumb to this shared experience of mania. In Bird Box, suspense painted the lines to move you through a simplistic story. With Barcelona, it’s almost as if the opposite happens.
We want to know more about this horrible phenomenon and the reasons these things have chosen us. But Barcelona keeps its cards close to the chest – perhaps too tightly to entice the audience to look for more breadcrumbs in another project.