Starring KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, Demi Moore, Lia McHugh, Elpidia Carrillo, Michole Briana White, Paul Sloan, Andrew Howard, Carol Abney, Darri Ingolfsson, Ian Duncan, Lauren Sivan, Jesse Gabbard and the voices of Susan Bennett, Louise Griffiths, Tim True and Matt Nolan.
Screenplay by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes.
Directed by Adam Mason.
Distributed by STX Films. 85 minutes. Rated PG-13.
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly been the most consequential occurrence in recent history. Therefore, you knew it was only a matter of time before they started making movies based on it.
Songbird is not the first film to use the pandemic as a subject matter. However, it is one of the more blatant ones in its inspiration; sheltering in place, wearing masks, zoom communications, social distancing and “fake news” are all part of its script. It even calls its future pandemic – an even more horrific variation of the coronavirus which has a nearly total death rate if caught – by the name COVID-23. (From that designation, the film must take place a mere two or three years in the future.)
It is a balancing act to take on a subject which is such a hot button. Therefore, the most impressive thing about Songbird is that it was actually surprisingly pretty good. (Not great, mind you, but fairly good.) This is all the more shocking because writer/director Adam Mason was first made his name in film with Broken (2006) – the one film I have ever reviewed in over 30 years of writing that I literally had to turn off less than fifteen minutes in because it was so vile and reprehensible.
Add to that the fact that Songbird was produced by Michael Bay and you’d be forgiven for expecting the movie was going to be pretty terrible.
It is not. That is the big news.
Is it too soon for COVID to become a gimmick to hang an action film on? Probably, yeah. After all, we’re still not through the pandemic and people are dying at a horrifying pace daily. It’s undoubtedly not something that should be used for entertainment.
That said, Songbird does it as well as anyone could expect, I suppose. The movie may be rather exploitative, but it’s not too exploitative, if you know what I mean.
Songbird takes place in a near-future Los Angeles in which the city is under near complete lockdown. A small percentage of people who are immune to the virus (they are condescendingly called “munies” by the endangered people) and are allowed to roam the streets as essential workers.
All others must hunker down at home. They are legally required to take a temperature test daily through a cell-phone app. If anyone has a temperature, they (and anyone else they may be living with) are rounded up and sent to quarantine areas (“Q-zones” in the film’s parlance.).
Strangely, the policing of the pandemic has been taken over by the Department of Sanitation. You know they are up to no good, because the department is run by Peter Stormare in particularly eccentric, sleazy, creepy mode. (Does Peter Stormare have any other mode?)
Of course, in this mass pandemic where most people are dead and nearly everyone else is stuck in their homes, we only run across a few groups of people, whose lives intersect over a period of a few days.
The closest thing to a main character – and a hero – is a munie named Nico (played by KJ Apa of Riverdale). Nico is a necessary worker – a bicycle delivery guy – who brings food and other goods to Los Angeles’ extensive homebound population. He has fallen in love with (but not physically met yet) one of his customers named Sara (Sofia Carson), who is stuck in her home with her beloved grandmother.
One of his biggest clients is a middle-aged couple, Piper and William (Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford), who have a young daughter who is particularly susceptible to the disease. Nonetheless, they seem to be involved in something shady, and William in particular seems to disappear into the night on a regular basis.
Then there is May (Alexandra Daddario), an aspiring singer who moved to LA right before the pandemic and has become a bit of a local internet sensation while doing livestreams and chats from a seedy motel. (Apparently, though all other major utilities seem to be up and running, radio and television seem to be so rare that nearly everyone in LA tunes into this one woman’s Instagram live feed for entertainment.)
All of them are trying to avoid the disease and Stormare’s militaristic Department of Transportation.
There is a good amount of plot holes in Songbird, as well as some logical and moral gaffes. (Getting a counterfeit immunity bracelet does not make one immune – in fact, it puts many others in danger.)
However, Songbird was more gripping and exciting than I had expected, and it deserves credit for that.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 16, 2021.