COVID-themed ‘Songbird’ offers too little, but surprisingly not too soon


Courtesy of STXfilms

KJ Apa stars in SONGBIRD

Too soon, or too ahead of its time? This is the question I ask myself after viewing producer Michael Bay’s thriller, Songbird. The movie is set four years into the future when COVID-19 has mutated into COVID-23 and has a “50% mortality rate.” 

After reading that sentence, you are probably feeling depressed or even angry. As we are in the midst of a pandemic, the last thing that anyone would want is a movie depicting the virus that is yet to end. 

When I viewed the trailer, I felt many different emotions ranging from uncomfortable to stressed. This motivated me to view the film and see if my feelings would change, or remain the same.

To make a quick comparison, the movies United 93 and World Trade Center are critically acclaimed yet controversial films. They both tell a story about two aspects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

United 93 is about the historical airline Flight 93 that was hijacked by four al-Qaeda terrorists. The World Trade Center depicts the events of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.

Both of these movies were some of the first dramatic films about 9/11. They were released in 2006, around five years after the 9/11 terror attacks. 

Many people at the time felt that the films were well acted and directed, but untimely. Five years may seem like a good healing period, but the wounds were still fresh. 

Osama Bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, had not been tracked down and executed until nearly a decade after the attacks. So imagine two realistic movies about horrific terrorist attacks, led by an organization whose leader was still alive somewhere in the world, air in your movie theatres. A majority of people would not be ready for that, and this would make you especially uncomfortable if you had family or friends impacted by 9/11.

With that in mind, I didn’t think that Songbird was that bad. It certainly won’t get any Oscar buzz, but it didn’t feel like your average thriller geared towards a younger audience. 

The two protagonists are an ex-paralegal named Nico, played by KJ Apa, and a young artist named Sara, played by Sofia Carson. Nico is immune to the coronavirus, which is depicted as COVID-23 in the movie. Sara is like most people, susceptible to the virus, and in turn is forced to stay in her apartment at all times. She and Nico have to navigate their relationship virtually, because they can’t have any physical contact with each other.

The antagonists of the movie are Piper Griffin (Demi Moore), William Griffin (Bradley Whitford), and corrupt DOS leader Emmet (Peter Stormare). The supporting actors include Max (Paul Hauser), May (Alexandra Daddario), and Lester (Craig Robinson).

Piper Griffin is a wealthy woman who is married to a man named William Griffin. She is a woman who will do pretty much anything to keep her daughter and her way of life safe, even in the pandemic. 

William is an irresponsible and careless man. His poor behavior often reflects how little he cares about himself and his family, especially his daughter who has cancer. The two of them sell illegal services and products, such as fake immunity bracelets, to the rich in order to sustain their luxurious lifestyle.

Emmet is the disreputable leader of the “Department of Sanitization.” He kills anyone outside of their homes if they aren’t wearing an immunity bracelet even though that isn’t the protocol. An immunity bracelet is worn by those who are immune to COVID-23. 

Max is a retired veteran who fought in Afghanistan. He is unable to walk, so he uses a high-tech drone as his eyes and ears. He works alongside the head of a courier organization named Lester. Lester often uses Max and his drone to keep tabs on his couriers. Nico is one of the workers who delivers packages. Only the immune can have a job delivering, because they have the right to go outside. 

May is a struggling singer and songwriter who does live streams for her small but growing fanbase. Max is one of her biggest fans and donates money to her on her streams. The two become good friends after he makes a generous donation which leads to daily Facetime calls between them. May also has a highly illegal job performing mature services. Her biggest and possibly only client happens to be William Griffin.

The film surrounds Sara and Nico as they are making a plan to move far away and live together. Sara lives with her abuela (grandmother) named Lita. Lita is older, which makes her an easy target for catching the virus. When she inevitably does, the DOS and its leader are notified. 

Since Sara lives with Lita, she has to be taken to the Q-Zone. There is a lot of negativity and corruption surrounding the Q-Zones which is why Nico goes on a mission so that she won’t be taken away. Along the way he gets into many situations that make it nearly impossible to rescue Sara. 

At the same time, May is having to deal with pestilent William who can’t leave her alone. This causes a concern for war vet Max. Lester is on the sidelines, but he does offer some support in saving Sara.

Knowing the premise of the movie, most people may think it sounds half-decent, but given the fact that it exploits the reality we are living, I’d give it a C rating. I thought the acting was realistic and well done, but the characters didn’t have enough personality. I feel like I only knew half of the protagonists’ stories, and almost nothing on the supporting characters.

It definitely wasn’t your typical Michael Bay action-packed film. I would have never guessed that he had any part in this film if I wasn’t aware that he was the producer. It wasn’t that loud and there were no explosions, but I am not too disappointed about that.

I definitely wish that we had more insight on what the Q-Zones were like. The Q-Zones are quarantine camps that the infected go to get better, or inevitably die. I would have wanted to see the conditions of the facilities and why they are “corrupt.” Almost all of the characters address the fact that the zones are not the place you want to be going to, but it kind of ends there with no explanation. I will acknowledge that they may have not been able to film scenes in the Q-Zones, because of COVID-19 measures.

Another critique that I have is that the movie is too short. Its play time is roughly 89 minutes, but it felt a lot faster than that. I think the little-to-no backstory on the characters was a contributing factor to the movie feeling too fast.

Besides good acting, I thought Songbird was a good “popcorn” movie. It had action, romance, and it didn’t make you think too hard. It genuinely did not feel like a movie about coronavirus even though COVID is a pivotal element in the film. It somehow felt like the creators of the movie were incorporating the idea of the virus ruining people’s lives without shoving it down the audience’s throat. I am not sure if that was intentional or not, but it made the movie feel less realistic, which is a good thing in this case.

When I watched the trailer, I initially thought that Songbird would romanticize this virus and make it gross, and in some parts it did, but overall, the more common theme was keeping the ones you love safe. It wasn’t completely about the romance between Sara and Nico. It was more about how far each of them were willing to go for each other in terms of life or death.

Having my strong opinion take a 180 was a unique experience. I really thought that my feelings on this film would stay the same, but to my surprise, I didn’t hate it.

I would not recommend this movie to anyone with severe anxiety about the world’s current climate with COVID-19, but if you can stomach it, I would give this movie a try. I legitimately think that once this pandemic is over, more people will give this movie a try and not feel so poorly about it.

The one thing I know for sure is that Songbird may be the first, but certainly won’t be the last, film about the COVID-19 pandemic.