Review: The shot-under-quarantine ‘Songbird’ is mostly forgettable
The science-fiction thriller “Songbird” has already earned some notoriety: first for being one of the earliest film productions to be shot in Los Angeles during the pandemic; and then for a trailer that made the movie look like an overblown, irresponsible piece of anti-lockdown propaganda.
The good news is that “Songbird” is nowhere near as incendiary as it initially seemed. It’s actually a fairly thoughtful dystopian melodrama, and cleverly staged — if ultimately a bit under-baked.
Director Adam Mason (who co-wrote the script with Simon Boyes) has set the story in 2024, imagining an America where COVID is still raging, having mutated to make vaccination futile. Society is now roughly divided into three classes: the infected and their close contacts, forced into quarantine camps; the uninfected, required to stay at home and policed by armed guards; and the recovered, who wear bracelets that allow them to roam freely, and who thus have mostly been pressed into service as couriers.
Adam Mason, director of several low-budget horror movies, teamed with Michael Bay to make “Songbird,” in which the world faces a mutated coronavirus.
KJ Apa of “Riverdale” fame plays Nico, an immune delivery man, who serves the wealthy while dreaming of a day when he can be with his uninfected girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson). When Nico asks for help from his best client, Mr. Griffin (Bradley Whitford), the fatcat’s wife, Piper (Demi Moore), alerts a cruel government enforcer (Peter Stormare) … and soon a life-or-death chase through the city is on.
“Songbird” is less a petulant protest against reasonable health measures and more an indictment of the privileged, who can buy their way into special favors and can exploit the needy. It doesn’t express much of a point of view about civic sacrifice, beyond a certainty that the worst people will find ways to avoid it.
Still, this remains a routine postapocalyptic potboiler, compensating as best it can for its curtailed (albeit superb) cast and its limited locations. Mason does a lot to make the characters’ distanced interactions — mostly via video chat — seem natural and not like a gimmick. But the real-world resonances are actually fairly dull. Though not especially objectionable, “Songbird” may suffer a worse fate: being forgettable.
Rated: PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, sexual material, partial nudity and some strong language.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Available Dec. 11 on PVOD
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