Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, directors and movie studios have had to get creative when it comes to shooting films. Some have adopted social distancing practises, to ensure they are COVID compliant, while others have adjusted scripts or delayed production start-dates to work around restrictions.
In the case of the British horror movie, Host, which was released during the summer, director Rob Savage used the circumstances of the UK lockdown to form the backdrop of his movie. In the case of Songbird – a new sci-fi thriller which has just been released – director Adam Mason has gone one step further, and has made his movie about the pandemic.
In Songbird, the COVID crisis has worsened. COVID-23 (the evil cousin of COVID-19) has ravaged the Earth; no one is allowed to leave their homes; and anyone who falls ill is taken away to a quarantine camp, never to return.
The only people who can move freely are law enforcement agents, and couriers who have developed an immunity to the virus. The agents wear hazmat suits, while the couriers wear bracelets to prove they are immune; and if they fail to show their bracelets, they can be shot on sight.
This is a world in which COVID has pushed things past the point of no return. It is harsh, it is draconian, and it is a world that is worryingly recognisable.
Songbird is currently playing in selected cinemas, if you can find one that is open, but is also available to rent through video on demand (VOD) platforms. The film stars Riverdale’s KJ Apa, as well as Demi Moore, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, and Peter Stormare, and counts Michael Bay as one of its producers.
Since making its debut, the film has received a fair bit of negative press, and a large chunk of this has to do with its subject matter. Many critics have raised the question about whether audiences want to see this movie right now, and I am going to add my voice here too, as I think this is a valid point.
I believe the movie’s timing is problematic. As much as I will watch a movie about almost anything, and heck, I even sat through Cats, I’m not convinced that releasing a movie about a global pandemic, while we are currently living through that pandemic, is such a great idea.
Many people look to movies as a form of entertainment and/or escapism, and that’s hard to do when the movie is essentially a dark reflection of what is currently taking place outside your window. For me, this is one of the main problems with Songbird and I firmly believe it is being released at the wrong time.
Call it insensitive, provocative, or downright daft, this movie should have been kept in reserve for when this nightmare is over. I do concede that movie studios are going to cover COVID at some point, so I can’t blame Adam Mason and STXfilms for getting in first, but I’m still not convinced this movie is what the world needs right now.
My other issue with this film is that it contains a number of really interesting ideas, that are largely left undeveloped. For example, it is established that KJ Apa’s character has immunity to COVID-23, and is therefore something special in a world where immunity is rare, and yet this is something which is left unexplored. This is a real shame, as I would have liked to have learned more about the immunity angle and how this is viewed by the wider population.
The movie instead chooses to focus all its attention on a love story, which becomes the backbone of the picture. This is fine, and is a perfectly serviceable thread, but the central romance is the least interesting element of the movie, and I can’t help but feel there was a better story bubbling under the surface.
My overall feeling about Songbird is that it is not awful, it is not fantastic, it is merely OK. It has a good cast, and a lot of potential, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like a missed opportunity to say something worthwhile.
Ultimately, I expect the deciding factor on this movie’s success in 2020 will be whether anyone wants to watch a movie about COVID. With the way things are at the moment, I have a funny feeling I know the answer.