Bird Box, the Netflix adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel, saw Malorie Hayes make her way to safe haven via the river with her son and her daughter. That journey was intercut with the time the world descended into chaos because of an alien invasion of sorts which was causing people to off themselves or turning them insane enough to force other people to off themselves. A pregnant Malorie found refuge in a house full of survivors until the numbers dwindled down to her, Tom, Malorie’s child, and Olympia’s child. Eventually, the group of four was attacked by a team of fanatics. Tom ended up dying, and Malorie safely (not exactly) reached a school for the blind with the children. Bird Box: Barcelona takes a similar approach, except this time, the central character, Sebastián, is actually the antagonist of the story as he shepherds unsuspecting survivors to their death. That’s intercut with the titular city descending into chaos due to the aliens and Sebastián’s transformation into an unblindfolded fanatic.
Given its proximity to A Quiet Place in terms of the release, Bird Box was criticized for being a little too similar to it while varying widely in terms of execution (A Quiet Place was good, and Bird Box was bad). But I think the Netflix film benefited from the similarity because people were probably hungry for more post-apocalyptic films like A Quiet Place, thereby leading to its virtual success. Anyway, Susanne Bier’s film was largely centered around fear and paranoia about the unknown and how humans can either unite or come apart at the seams due to the inability to work with each other. Gary’s entry in the house of the survivors, as well as the team that attacked Malorie and Tom in the woods, revealed that when humans can’t understand the unknown but they recognize it as a superior force, they start to treat it as a god. In doing so, they showed how that could lead to fanaticism and fascism as the unblindfolded “believers” forced the people who didn’t want to abide by their rules to see and then die.
Bird Box did play on the dichotomy of “seeing is believing” and that being blind (not in the literal sense, but metaphorically speaking) to the truths of the world is synonymous with freedom, while making it difficult for the inhabitants of the planet to see because it’d lead to their death. That’s when you wonder if death is the real freedom when everything has gone downhill or whether surviving through such perils is actually the new definition of freedom. Bird Box: Barcelona doubles down on that theme by putting us in the shoes of a fanatic like Sebastián. We literally see that he thinks the death of nonbelievers or those who can’t withstand the case of these “angels” (a reference to the aliens who are now capable of mind control through sound) should die. He doesn’t think the process is something that’s cruel and violent because all he sees is their soul leaving the victims’ bodies and ascending to heaven. He is too brainwashed by the aliens’ powers to realize that that’s not actually his daughter by his side, but merely an extension of his grief over her death as well as his religious inclinations.
Yes, unlike Bird Box, Bird Box: Barcelona leans a lot into the metamorphosis of religion as we see Padre Esteban becoming an imposer for the aliens. His transformation from someone who believes in Jesus and Christianity to something that’s invisible (and yet powerful) shows that if your faith in yourself is less than the faith you have in a fantastical being, you’ll be susceptible to abandoning your ethics and morality. I don’t want to make a blanket statement that unscientific people, who just happen to be theists, are easier to manipulate because they won’t question anything until it aligns with their biases, but that’s what usually happens. A person can use religion and faith for the good of humankind. However, as society devolves into chaos due to unemployment, lack of proper education, inflation, etc., the ones who “believe” or “sit on the fence” usually tend to vent their frustrations and confusion through bigotry. And that’s what we see Esteban, Sebastián, and the rest of the unblindfolded fanatics are doing, thereby making the film a commentary on how deifying the unknown becomes the last refuge for those suffering from fear and paranoia.
Sebastián’s grief plays an important part in the transformation from a peaceful believer of a man-made religion to a violent believer of an alien-based religion, and his reconciliation with it ends up being the core of the film. On the surface, Sebastián doing the work of the aliens, even though they are the ones who are responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter, can seem weird. But if you look at societies where the majority population is trying to impose their beliefs on minorities while minorities survive by pretending that they are straying away from their personal beliefs and aligning with the majority community, then it won’t seem that weird. Sebastián’s case is quite extreme because he’s too far gone and is actually believing what Esteban and the aliens are teaching him. However, somewhere deep down in him, he has a bit of humanity left, which is brought to the foreground by Claire and Sophia because they remind him of his wife and daughter, respectively. And that’s what allows him to see through the fog that he’s in, help Claire and Sophia get to safety, and confront the wolf in sheep’s clothing, i.e., Padre Esteban.
The Jesus metaphors aren’t lost on me because of Mario Casas’ character design and the fact that Anna’s apparition keeps referring to Sebastián as a shepherd. It becomes particularly evident when he gets stabbed, or, to be more specific, where he gets stabbed. That moment can be interpreted as a moment of self-sacrifice in order to allow Clair and Sophia to escape. But I think it’s Sebastián’s way of paying for his sins. Being aware of the crimes one has committed under the influence of a fiend doesn’t absolve them. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t simply wash away the blood that is on your hands. So, it can be perceived as Sebastián seeking penance for all the bloodshed he has done. I think it’s a fitting ending for the character because, after doing what he has done, there is no way for him to completely correct himself. The burden of dead bodies would have affected his soul and mind eventually, and Sebastián probably knew that. That’s why he used that opportunity to do one good deed before breathing his last.
However, all is not well just because it ends well. Bird Box: Barcelona is still a boring-as-hell movie as it focuses too much on the plot and mimicking the storytelling structure of the first film instead of highlighting these themes. I can’t bring myself to care about the plot if the characters, the themes, or the overall feel of the film doesn’t connect with me in any meaningful way. The plot can function as precisely as a machine, but if it doesn’t hit me, the viewing experience is meaningless. What’s infuriating, though, is that Álex Pastor and David Pastor could’ve made something substantial here because the premise and the character of Sebastián were quite compelling. Instead, we get this dull film that has a meandering pace and no intention of being entertaining, suspenseful, existential, or thrilling. Anyway, that’s just my opinion on Bird Box: Barcelona. Feel free to watch it for yourself on Netflix, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.