Bird Box Barcelona (2023)

Director: Álex Pastor, David Pastor

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Starring: Mario Casas, Georgina Campbell, Alejandra Howard, Nalia Schuberth, Diego Calva Hernández, Patrick Criado, Lola Dueñas, Gonzalo de Castro, Michelle Jenner, Leonardo Sbaraglia

Released in 2018, Bird Box was a post-apocalyptic film where people tried surviving in a world overrun by eldritch horrors that make the people who see them commit suicide. Netflix claimed that it held the best viewing figures for one of their films at the time, with a reported worldwide audience of 45 million members in seven days, which even led to a viral blindfold challenge. After such success, it was only a matter of time before Netflix expanded the world, and this marks the first of their planned international spin-offs.

This story opens with a young girl, Anna (Alejandra Howard) told to open her eyes, as she is given the chance to skate in an isolated rink with her dad, Sebastián (Mario Casas). In a world where such instructions can spell doom, this kindly subversion allows for a moment of happiness within this bleak reality. The moment does not last, as violence arrives which leaves Sebastián tempted to react in kind, although he is compelled not to as the sight of Anna rekindles his humanity.

Writers/Directors Álex and David Pastor are in familiar territory, having directed post-apocalyptic features with 2009's Carriers and 2013's The Last Days. In approaching the world previously brought to screen by director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the Pastor's find a different approach which offers an interesting direction as opposed to a Barcelona set retread of what the 2018 film delivered.

Remaining unseen, the horrific creatures are shrouded in ambiguity courtesy of a knowledge that the audiences' imagination is stronger than what a VFX designer can put on-screen. These unseen beings are glimpsed through their own point-of-view, seemingly inspired by Sam Raimi's direction from 1981's The Evil Dead, as they prey on people's fears to manipulate them into committing suicide.

The toll of surviving this horrific reality is highlighted, as a key aspect of the story involves trauma. Flashbacks spell out what audiences already know, as the present-day story heavy-handedly shows the scars left upon people alongside how they deal with what their traumatic experiences. Some join a religious cult led by priest Father Esteban (Leonardo Sbaraglia), seeing the creatures as angels intent on saving the lost souls from their bodies. As horrific acts are committed in the name of "saving" people, it brings to mind how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Whispered hints at the emotional scars should allow an insight into the characters, yet the majority feel underutilized and underwritten. The most unfortunate example is Claire (Georgina Campbell), someone haunted by grief who feels more like a supporting prop for the lead's sake instead of her own character. Not helping matters are how tension-free the sequences feel, particularly as characters blindly move towards the unknown. Few surprises are taken in the third-act, prioritizing perfunctory action beats as it barrels towards a sequel-baiting ending. Let's hope the next Bird Box instalment is worth seeing.

Bird Box Barcelona is available on Netflix from 14th July