SONGBIRD

DYSTOPIA PORN THAT CASHES IN ON COVID-19

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
16th May 2021

Hollywood's first feature about COVID-19 was always going to be produced by someone with the tact and classiness of Michael Bay. You just knew it was going to happen. With 'Songbird', Bay and director Adam Mason have turned a pandemic with a global death toll in the millions into a "sci-fi thriller" about a world in which lockdown is in its fourth year and the infected are rounded up in camps. Hooray for escapism!

It's 2024, and the United States has been ravaged by another pandemic: the more lethal COVID-23, a mutation of the virus that's somehow caused the nation's highways to fall into disrepair but increased everyone's internet speed. Los Angeles is under permanent lockdown and daily health checks are mandatory, the sick carted off to the ominous Q-Zone by armed sanitation workers in yellow hazmat suits. Only a small number of the blessedly immune are allowed out in the streets, leading to a lucrative black market in counterfeit immunities.

Yet love still blooms in these grungy times - Nico (KJ Apa, 'The Hate U Give'), a virus-immune bicycle courier, falls for a woman in lockdown, Sara (Sofia Carson), who only he can save from a sneering Emmett (Peter Stormare, 'John Wick: Chapter 2'), the corrupt head of the city's "sanitation" department. In the fancier part of town, Piper (Demi Moore, 'Rough Night') is running a business selling phony immunity passes and caring for her sick daughter while her oily record producer husband, William (Bradley Whitford, 'The Call of The Wild', 'Destroyer'), engages in a bit of COVID-themed kink with struggling singer May (Alexandra Daddario, 'Baywatch'). There is a note of hope in a dark future, that despite the gig workers and corporate overlords the world (post-apocalyptic, even!) still has a place for the clichéd, sleazy record producer.

SWITCH: 'SONGBIRD' TRAILER

Is 'Songbird' a love story set in the pandemic? Is it a thriller showing shady characters selling black market passes? Is it an ensemble showing different people from different social strata dealing with this virus? Adam Mason presumably just said fuck it, let's do all three. Clearly aiming for a mix of Steven Soderbergh's 'Contagion' and 'Southland Tales', the film's diverse influences also seem to include David Koepp's 'Premium Rush', David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet' and Luc Besson's 'The Professional'. As you can imagine, the end result is a dog's breakfast.

Just in case it wasn't clear enough that this film is capitalising on very real anxieties, 'Songbird' was filmed in mid-lockdown Los Angeles in 2020, apparently flouting a few COVID protocols to do so. This is like making a 'Godzilla' movie while the people of Tokyo are still trying to avoid being stepped on by a giant lizard.

This is like making a 'Godzilla' movie while the people of Tokyo are still trying to avoid being stepped on by a giant lizard.

Not only that, but the film's ideology is gross. Civilians have applications on their phones which can be used to detect if you have caught the virus - if you do, the government is notified and special forces kick down your front door. Quarantine - a key aspect of every government's public health response - is presented as necessarily fascist and Auschwitz-y. Don't even get me started on the "Q-Zones" and the use of that particularly controversial letter as a wacko dog whistle. And it romanticises the gig economy! Get absolutely ten-carat fucked, 'Songbird'.

KJ Apa seems like a solid dude. I occasionally enjoy 'Riverdale' and, of all the actors on that show, he is one of them. But this is such an awful career choice by him. And Bradley Whitford! A guy with starring roles in socially conscious films and TV series like 'Get Out' and 'The Handmaid's Tale' should know better and have plenty of money to live off without taking this job.

The creative team of 'Songbird' straight up took advantage and churned out this mess while the world was still grappling with and trying to understandi COVID. Demonising the practical measures taken during a pandemic and building a hero narrative for those who resist them, 'Songbird' is a relentlessly stupid movie from all angles. Made in the poorest of taste, this film is undeserving of your time and money.

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