Arts & Leisure

‘Bird Box’: low budget drudgery


By Lindsey Bahr/AP Film Writer

It’s funny to think back to December 2018, that pre-pandemic world, when everyone decided that they wanted to spend their holiday breaks watching a terrified, blindfolded Sandra Bullock try to escape a mysterious force that compels people to suicide. Before “Tiger King,” before “Squid Game,” “Bird Box” was a phenomenon for Netflix. Sure, they self-report their numbers and keep metrics like viewing hours, households and watches intentionally vague, but they also don’t tout all their movie-star driven pictures like that: “Bird Box” was an unambiguous hit.

Was it because the movie was good? Watercooler worthy? A universal love for Bullock? Maybe it was just something new that everyone in the house could agree on. It’s fascinating and frustrating to see movies, good and bad, that came and went in their time in the past 30 years hitting a nerve with the culture at once because they happen to be on Netflix. “Bird Box” may not have been a great film, but it was exciting and intriguing enough at the exact right moment, with a good cast and all the dressings of a Hollywood movie from its director (Suzanne Bier) to its score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. And it had a sheen of “edginess,” that can-you-believe-it factor that would benefit “Squid Game” later.

It’s not a surprise that Netflix wanted to capitalize on that popularity, even five years later, but “Bird Box Barcelona” is not it. The film, streaming Friday, boasts some impressive action sequences but its reliance on the shock value of the suicides wears thin, becoming both tedious and gratuitous as the movie stretches on and on and on.

This story, written and directed by David and Àlex Pastor, is set an ocean away from the first film. It also embraces dual timelines that meet up to reveal some sort of truth about the protagonist, Sebastian (Mario Casas) and his young daughter Anna (Alejandra Howard). He, like everyone, is haunted by what’s happening and searching for some kind of meaning behind it. Sebastian is an unreliable protagonist with some secrets, too – maybe he’s not even a good guy. Why, very early in the film, when telling some randoms on the street that he knows where a generator is, does he say he’s alone when Anna is standing right next to him?

This post-apocalyptic world is as bleak and inhumane as it gets –especially with factions of city-dwellers led by a priest (Leonardo Sbaraglia) convinced that this version of death is the only true way to salvation. The one grace in the movie is an English psychiatrist Claire (Georgina Campbell) who seems to be the only real human around, but unfortunately she’s been sidled with a cliché de- facto mother plot caring for a very thinly drawn young German girl, Sofia (Naila Schuberth), who has lost her mother.

I suppose no one who is coming to “Bird Box Barcelona” has or had much of a problem the suicide hook, but it is as cut-rate as it gets. There is no thrill, entertainment or insight to be gleaned in watching the myriad ways people can die by their own hand. It’s just awful, and this is not a film that is interested in grappling with the trauma in any interesting or helpful way. Instead it is two hours of unpleasant drudgery.

And, unfortunately, like many horror movies before it, more information and explanations about the mysterious suicidal forces at large does not enhance the suspense for the audience. Instead, it just makes everything dumber.

“Bird Box Barcelona,” a Netflix release streaming Friday, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association. Running time: 110 minutes.

Categories: Arts & Leisure

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