Songbird (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – In 2024 a pandemic ravages the world and its cities. Centering on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society: disease, martial law, quarantine, and vigilantes.

My Take – Well I guess it was only matter of time when some filmmaker would try to cash in on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, if one had to choose a filmmaker to treat a catastrophic situation that has already claimed millions of lives across the world with consideration and decency, I doubt Michael Bay would have appeared in any list.

Shot entirely during the lockdown, the film, backed by Bay (along with others obviously) and directed by Adam Mason, who co-wrote with Simon Boyes, was announced in March, began production in May, and wrapped up by August, making its production quite an impressive feat.

With the pandemic as its backdrop, and a dystopian near future as its setting, the film also seemed to have all the ingredients for a solid thriller, unfortunately, its hastiness and narrative forcefulness not only turned the final product into a bland and uncomfortable watch, but also overtly tasteless.

In my opinion, the plot should have allowed the filmmaker to add some biting social critiques and satire around the situation with the promised amount of thrills, but here director Mason simply doesn’t try to reach for anything beyond cynicism. Instead he seems more concerned about a pointless love story, a seedy affair, and an over-the-top villain who seems completely out of place in this film.

An overkill, which feels strangely out of tune with the whole film, despite the timely inclusion of a ravaging virus. Hence, aside from being a quarantine based film coming out during a quarantine, there isn’t anything special here, just a bland attempt to capitalize on a global emergency.

Taking place in 2024, in a world where the COVID-19 virus has mutated into COVID-23, and is now more airborne than ever and has already killed 110 million people worldwide. Set in Los Angeles, which is now basically a police state, where the authorities basically snatches anyone with illness and force them into Q-Zones, the story follows Nico (K.J. Apa), a virus-immune bicycle courier whose days mostly consist of delivering packages to various fortified Beverly Hills compounds for his boss, Lester (Craig Robinson), and chatting with Sara (Sofia Carson), the girlfriend he’s never actually met face to face.

The pandemic has turned everyone into shut-ins, like Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser), a paralyzed, drone-piloting vet who also works for Lester, and their biggest customer, the ritzy Griffins, Piper (Demi Moore), who deals in phony immunity passes, and her sleazy record-producer husband, William (Bradley Whitford), who despite the country lock down is adamant about carrying on his affair with May (Alexandra Daddario), a singer who moved to L.A. at the outset of the pandemic, and is now trapped in her motel room.

But when Sara’s grandmother gets the virus, Nico is forced into a race to save her from being carted into quarantine before Emmett Harland (Peter Stormare), the head of the Los Angeles Sanitation department arrives.

This could have been a clever jumping-off point, but director Adam Mason doesn’t seem much interested in cleverness, or the human connections he pretends to lament in their absence. In the rush to get the film ready, it seems like he didn’t bother to develop any characters, put together a coherent plot or come up with a single shred of commentary on the pandemic that’s ravaging the world as we speak.

The two main romantic leads, Nico and Sara, get the majority of the screen time, and their arc is the one that’s arguably best worked out. However, their story feels bland, and very derivative of a load of other doomed romance stories. Though the pair are never physically together until the film’s climax, their relationship doesn’t have all that much heat. Plus, throughout their interactions, it’s hard not to wonder if they could really make it work given they’ve only presented the best sides of themselves to one another over video chat.

The film also reiterates the idea that the immune can still get other people sick via particles on their hair and clothes, but since Nico never interacts with any of his customers (or anyone at all), there doesn’t seem to be much difference between immunity and being an asymptomatic carrier.

Much of the time, though, it looks more like director Adam Mason is hell-bent on keeping the tops of his actors’ heads out of frame whenever possible. The visuals do fit the story, in the sense that the film keeps the characters busy, zipping around the city when they’re able, without allowing them much characterization.

Instead it just decides to throw at us information which in the long run don’t make sense. For example, people are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake their immunity, so they can travel, but where and how is never clearly mentioned. To make matters hilarious it even throws in a last minute twist that one of the characters as a self-evidently immune, because they haven’t gotten infected after close-quarters contact with someone who has COVID-23, yet the sanitation troopers won’t back off until they scan the character’s bootlegged bracelet.

Stylistically, too the film is all over the place. The camerawork is often chaotic and handheld, but not consistently so, nor does it add anything. While the 84-minute film is paced relatively well, it’s simply not engaging or entertaining enough to hold your attention for its runtime. The narrative itself lacks imagination and it never goes as far as it could to at least make the whole thing feel memorable.

The film wants to be a film about hope in the face of a hopeless situation, with human connection from afar and reuniting with loved ones representing the light at the end of the tunnel. But the film, by virtue of its existence, says a lot more about the people who made it than it does about the world we are currently living in.

The performance wise, K.J. Apa is charismatic enough and shares genuine chemistry with the equally likable Sofia Carson. Bradley Whitford injects some genuine menace into his character, while Peter Stormare hams it up to the maximum. In other roles, Demi Moore, Craig Robinson, Paul Walter Hauser and Alexandra Daddario, are equally effective despite not given much to work with. On the whole, ‘Songbird’ is a hastily put thriller that lacks in both story and execution.

Directed – Adam Mason

Starring – K.J. Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 84 minutes

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