Bird Box Barcelona Falls Victim to the Worst Horror Trends

Netflix's first Bird Box spinoff squanders its own potential.

Gonzalo de Castro, Georgina Campbell, Mario Casas, and Naila Schuberth in 'Bird Box Barcelona'
Inverse Reviews

Bird Box is, in many ways, the quintessential Netflix blockbuster. Released in late 2018, the dystopian thriller received deservedly mixed reviews from critics but went on to become the most-watched film that Netflix had released up to that point. Despite the momentary attention it received, though, Bird Box wasn’t all that unique or memorable, which is why its place in the pop cultural conversation came and went about as quickly as the viral trends it inspired on social media. Five years later, Netflix is nonetheless releasing its first Bird Box spinoff this week in a bid to turn one of its biggest “hits” into a full-fledged franchise.

To its credit, unlike so many sequels and spinoffs, Bird Box Barcelona isn’t afraid to take risks. On the contrary, the film makes several big, potentially audience-alienating gambles over the course of its 111-minute runtime. Some of them work better than others, but altogether, they represent a desire to tell a distinctly different story than the one viewers saw back in 2018. Unfortunately, none of Bird Box Barcelona’s twists land as well as its massive first-act misdirect, which sets the film up to be a far more interesting horror thriller than it ultimately becomes.

In spite of all of its best efforts, the new film proves incapable of escaping not only the formula established by the first Bird Box but also the worst trends of the current horror era. It’s a film that carves out a dozen new paths for itself, only to return to several already well-trodden, mind-numbingly familiar roads.

Bird Box Barcelona features a very different protagonist than its parent film.


Inspired by the same Josh Malerman novel as its 2018 predecessor, Bird Box Barcelona takes place on a version of Earth that has become overrun by entities that make any humans who see them kill themselves. Set nine months after said entities’ initial invasion of Earth, the film follows a group of survivors who are forced to traverse through its eponymous city with blindfolds and blacked-out-goggles on in order to prevent their own deaths. Chief among the film’s human characters is Sebastián (Mario Casas), a father torn between his faith, love for his daughter (Alejandra Howard), and responsibilities to his fellow survivors.

Early in Bird Box Barcelona, Sebastián crosses paths with Claire (Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell), a kind-hearted former therapist who offers to let him join her group of survivors, which includes a dog trainer (Patrick Criado), a former delivery driver (Babylon star Diego Calva), a married couple (Lola Dueñas and Gonzalo de Castro), and Sofia (Naila Schuberth), a young German girl who has been taken in by Claire. Shortly after joining up with the group, Sebastián helps them form a plan to reach Montjuïc Castle, a historic military fortress rumored to be a human safe haven.

To say anything more about Bird Box Barcelona’s plot would be to spoil its biggest surprises. Without giving anything specific away, though, it’s worth noting that the film, which was penned and directed by David and Àlex Pastor, doesn’t choose the most obvious method of continuing Bird Box’s story. Instead, the thriller takes several minor details from that 2018 film and uses them to tell a story that plays around with issues of morality, perspective, and truth far more freely than Bird Box ever did. As inconsequential as they prove to be, the film’s first few creative decisions make it a less predictable thriller than most viewers will likely expect.

Between Bird Box Barcelona and Barbarian, it seems safe to say that Georgina Campbell is an actress well-suited for the horror genre.


That’s true, at least, until Bird Box Barcelona reverts back to the by-the-numbers structure of its predecessor. Despite kicking its story off in a shockingly brutal, blood-soaked fashion, the Spanish-language thriller eventually settles into the same rhythms as the original Bird Box. The film spends most of its second and third acts spinning its wheels — following its characters as they bounce from one secluded building to another. Along the way, Bird Box Barcelona not only picks its human survivors off in a successive manner that calls to mind the Final Destination franchise, but it also weaves in flashbacks that flesh out Sebastián’s tragic backstory.

Like its parent film, Bird Box Barcelona occasionally lingers on the often self-inflicted deaths of its characters in a way that feels unnecessarily grotesque. That said, the film still packs in a handful of legitimately tense moments and set pieces, including one exploration of a seemingly abandoned apartment that takes an inevitably dark turn and a third-act sequence that makes good use of its specific locale.

While the film’s characterizations of its core survivors often feel too thin to build any kind of emotional investment in them as well, Casas, Campbell, and Schuberth do create a compelling connection between their characters. Coming off her turn in last year’s Barbarian, Campbell once again proves how capable she is of bringing real humanity to even the most gruesome of thrillers. Babylon breakout Diego Calva, unfortunately, isn’t given nearly as much to do in his minor, underwritten role as Octavio, a compassionate member of the group led by Campbell’s Claire.

Its paper-thin characters aside, where Bird Box Barcelona ultimately goes wrong is in its exploration and overall handling of Sebastián’s story. What starts out as an initially intriguing exploration of how religious extremism can warp even the most outwardly horrifying of events devolves into a story of grief that horror fans have already seen a million times before — especially throughout the past 10 years. The film’s obsession with emotional trauma not only serves as the lackluster explanation for some of its biggest mysteries, but it also flattens Bird Box Barcelona’s originally prickly story down to a series of hamfisted metaphors and unearned emotional platitudes.

If the first Bird Box tried to explore how difficult it is to open yourself up to love even in the face of potential loss, then Bird Box Barcelona offers a tale about how grief can forever change the way a person sees the world. The film, in other words, manages to be simultaneously more boundary-pushing and experimental than its predecessor, and yet less thematically compelling. Should you choose to press play and give it your time, you won’t so much be subjected to an unforgettable story of death and trauma as you will the horror of wasted potential.

Bird Box Barcelona premieres Friday, July 14 on Netflix.

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