Director: Adam Mason
Starring: KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Elpidia Carrillo, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser and Demi Moore
Run time: 1h 24min
What better way to escape the worries and stress caused by a global pandemic than by watching a film about a global pandemic.
The year is 2024 and it’s not COVID-19 that the world is now worrying about in Songbird, it’s COVID-23. Yes, the virus has mutated and now only 0.1% of the population are immune. Over 110 million people have already died because of it and the infection rate is still rising. People are doing what they can to survive and online shopping has never been more popular. There are quarantine zones where the infected (and those associated with them) go to die and the brutal Department of Sanitation aren’t too upset if uninfected people end up there as well.
Immune (he wears a yellow bracelet of proof) courier Nico (KJ Apa) has managed to form a socially distanced relationship with Sara (Sofia Carson). And it really is socially distanced as they’ve never been in the same room together. When her grandmother becomes sick, the men in yellow hazmat suits come to take them both away. Determined to prevent that from happening, Nico enlists the help of some dangerous black-market entrepreneurs to get Sara an immunity pass so she avoids the death camps.
Comparisons to 28 Days Later, Outbreak or Contagion are inevitable, and Songbird is a strong addition to virus-themed movies. Director Adam Mason has created a very well put together film under what must have been tricky and restrictive circumstances. The first feature to be shot in Los Angeles four months after their lockdown had started, it even has the power of Michael Bay behind it. Whilst you don’t see any of his trademark explosions, you do see LA pulverised in a very different way. Deserted streets and desolate landscapes paint a bleak picture where the only people allowed to venture outside are delivery drivers and the emergency services.
KJ Apa (and his frequently removed shirt) holds the film together well and his rather unique relationship with Sara is somehow believable and endearing. However, Peter Stormare’s performance would be more at home in a pantomime. As the sadistic boss of the Department of Sanitation, his exaggerated turn fails to register any menace at all.
Fast moving and at only 84 minutes long, Songbird feels rushed and, in certain scenes, there’s a surprising lack of tension where you would expect it to be running high. More time could have been taken to flesh out some of the characters and to provide us with more details about their backgrounds. Piper Griffin (Demi Moore) and her obnoxious husband William (Bradley Whitford), both live in a luxurious house and are quite clearly wealthy, so why do they flirt with danger so brazenly with their extra-curricular activities? This is even more curious as they have a daughter whose immune system is compromised and would surely become infected without them.
Songbird works best when it shows what an awful lot of us have been experiencing for almost a year at the time of writing this; the isolation, the loneliness and the foreboding panic of a temperature and a cough. A simple handshake highlights the lack of physical contact for so many. Exploitive, yes, but an intriguingly gripping and timely thriller with a message of hope throughout.
Songbird sings into UK cinemas and digital platforms from Friday 11thDecember.