The disaster thriller SONGBIRD is not the first film to use the corona pandemic for advertising purposes. But it is the first in which the Covid virus itself is mentioned. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether this is in bad taste or covered by artistic freedom. But regardless of that, this is a fascinating film but not a good one. We reveal why in our review.
OT: Songbird (USA 2020)
In 2024, the COVID-19 virus has mutated into the even more dangerous COVID-23 virus. The world is already in its fourth year of rigorous lockdown. Infected Americans are being torn from their homes and taken to quarantine camps, so-called Q-Zones, from which there is no escape. But some brave souls are fighting back against this oppression. Amid this dystopian landscape, fearless virus-immune courier Nico (KJ Apa) finds hope in love with Sara (Sofia Carson), even though the lockdown prohibits them from physical contact. When Sara is said to have contracted the virus, Nico desperately races through the barren streets of Los Angeles to find a way to save her from imprisonment…
The corona pandemic has been keeping the world in suspense for over a year. Of course, this doesn’t go unnoticed by the film studios, which deal with the situation differently: While Warner Bros. is testing a release strategy in 2021, for which the company will simultaneously make films available in cinemas and as VOD titles on the in-house streaming service HBO Max , Universal Pictures has drastically shortened the time window between theatrical release and home cinema release and in the case of some productions has even left out the first part entirely. But Corona is not only forcing the production and distribution companies to react, the spread of the COVID virus is also serving some filmmakers as creative nourishment for new projects. The disaster thriller “Songbird,” co-financed by Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, was advertised as being the first feature film to deal with the Corona crisis – and continues. At this point we do not want to judge to what extent such a rapid acceptance of a still omnipresent crisis merely explores or even exceeds the limits of artistic freedom. You can ruin the cinematic treatment of a true tragedy even if you wait a few years before filming it for reasons of decency (for example, “Utøya July 22nd” comes to mind). But director and co-writer Adam Mason (“Blood River”) is definitely not the first to have this idea.
Demi Moore stoically plays one of the supporting roles in “Songbird.”
In addition to “Songbird”, the Internet Movie Databas (IMDb) currently lists over ten other feature films that deal with the topic of Corona. Seven of them alone listen to the title “Love in the Time of Corona,” inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Mostafa Keshvari’s “Corona” celebrated its world premiere at the Rhode Island Film Festival in August 2020. And at the end of October, the first British Corona film “ShoPaapaa” was presented to a wide audience. With a budget of – depending on the source – between 700,000 and 2.5 million US dollars, “Songbird” is not even the “first”. size Corona Production” – but it is admittedly the first with a reputation resulting from the actors hired for it and the names behind the scenes. With Demi Moore (“The Jane Files”)Bradley Whitford (“Get Out”)Paul Walter Hauser (“The Richard Jewell Case”)Peter Stormare (“John Wick: Chapter 2”)Craig Robinson (“Table 19”)Alexandra Daddario (“Baywatch”)Disney star Sofia Carson (“Descendants”) and KJ Apa (“I Still Believe”) The film is a vehicle peppered with first and second tier Hollywood stars, which is all the more impressive considering the difficult production circumstances influenced by the real pandemic, but does not do justice to the content and production of “Songbird”.
“In addition to ‘Songbird’, the Internet Movie Databas (IMDb) currently lists over ten other feature films that deal with the topic of Corona. Seven of them alone listen to the title ‘Love in times of Corona’.”
Even when trying to squeeze all these big names (and many more actors) into a one-and-a-half-hour plot and to give each of them a somewhat interesting background, Adam Mason stumbles badly. It would have been completely enough to make the new lovers Nico and Sara, who were forced to keep their distance due to the pandemic, the sole heroes of the film and to watch how the sporty courier driver manages to save his loved one from being forced into a quarantine camp. But “Songbird” spans several, sometimes outrageously constructed and brought together subplots, all of which are intended to illustrate different facets of the COVID-23 pandemic. All of the characters in “Songbird” have in common that they are confined to their houses due to the general curfew – but while some of them profit from the crisis as dealers with fake immunity bracelets (without these you are not allowed to move freely on the streets of the USA) – and sometimes develop strange, eccentric fantasies of world domination – the others live in fear of a positive corona test, which would take them away from their family and lead them to certain death via the quarantine camps. Although all of these subplots are capable of stoking fear of an actual escalation of the current pandemic situation, not a single one of them manages to build an emotional connection to the characters. Neither Demi Moore, who looks bored throughout, nor Bradley Whitford, who acts extremely exaggeratedly, changes this. His storyline shows him as an abusive lover of the much younger May, played by Alexandra Daddario, whose relationship ends in a completely unpleasant way (and of course somehow also because of Corona).
Even in the Corona crisis, your smartphone is always with you!
But it’s not just the various characters’ fates, of which only the friendly online friendship between May and Dozer, played by Paul Walter Hauser, that brings a little bit of feeling into the game, don’t have much to offer apart from their carefully sensational production. The world-building in “Songbird” also focuses on spinning the already dire pandemic circumstances of the current time into the dystopian. Camera pans over empty streets, rotten amusement parks that look as if they are in Chernobyl’s death zone and sensationalist news snippets make the scenario look like any random catastrophe from a Hollywood film, but have nothing to do with a serious processing of the Corona crisis. Of course, the question must be asked as to whether this was even intended by the makers. But if that wasn’t the case anyway, there would have been no need for “Songbird” to reflect on the Corona origins. Instead, a fictional virus could have wreaked the same cinematic havoc. But then of course the advertising effect as the “first Corona film” – which, as mentioned at the beginning, is just a claim anyway – wouldn’t be as effective.
“The world-building in ‘Songbird’ focuses on spinning the already dire pandemic circumstances of the current time into the dystopian.”
“Songbird” is also a rather strenuous undertaking in terms of staging. There is none of the glossy images typical of Michael Bay to be found here; instead, cameraman Jacques Jouffret tries his hand at it (“Mile 22”) of close-up handheld camera shots that look too high quality for a found footage effect, but as shown here look like unprofessional shaking. Every now and then, lavish panoramas show the extent of the catastrophe. There are a few moments in which a feeling of threat arises, even in a completely unforced manner. Simply because the real pandemic is still present everywhere.
Conclusion: Corona or Corona – no matter how you feel about the fact that director Adam Mason is using a catastrophe that is far from over to make a sensational thriller, “Songbird” is not a good film even beyond this discussion. A patchy script, either uninteresting or unsympathetic characters and a loveless production make the film its own catastrophe.
“Songbird” is available on VOD on US streaming platforms.