The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, no matter how much our government would like to believe it is or how many people you see go eat at a restaurant. And with the continuing threat of a very real infection comes the fear that it won’t be ending in the near future, even with vaccines inbound. And from that fear, it was only natural that a film would be made that looks at what happens when the virus doesn’t end but mutates into even more deadly strains. That’s Songbird. Or at the very least that’s what the film directed by Adam Mason and co-written by Mason and Simon Boyes aims to be.
In Songbird, the not so subtle nod to our own pandemic COVID-23 virus has mutated and the world is in its fourth year of perpetual lockdown. Set in Los Angeles, the infected and those they live with are taken from their homes and forced into quarantine camps known as Q-Zones, from which there is no escape. But where there is a dystopian hell-scape for some that’s filled with fear, for others it’s a playground ripe for making money. While this is a more interesting secondary plot point for Songbird, the real focus of the film is Nico (K.J. Apa), a courier who is immune to the virus. But the film doesn’t even focus on his role in helping facilitate the sale of black market immunity bracelets and the differences in class this takes advantage of. No, it’s about Nico and his attempt to save his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson), whom he has never been in the same room with.
In fact, all of the interesting elements of Songbird are pushed to the side to facilitate a romance and a “thrilling” montage of motorcycle rides fast through abandoned streets to save the woman you love. As Nico races across Los Angeles in search of the only way to save Sara from the Q-Zone, much more interesting, if not forgotten story beats move around him. For example: a content creator making content from a motel room she got stuck in—which I’m not still entirely sure was necessary. There’s also a former music producer abusing his power, PTSD from deployment, and drones watching courier. They all exist in a film that is trying to do too much and still manages to do too little.
Honestly, I wanted Songbird to be good. For me, infection thrillers and horrors have been a powerful catharsis. While I don’t know when our pandemic will end, watching people in a movie who have it so much worse, toughing it out, and surviving just helps me get through it all. So when I saw the promotion for Songbird, the first feature film made during COVID-19 in Los Angeles, and about a related pandemic itself, I was hoping there would be some reward. I was looking for a critique of our situation, a look at class disparities, or even a damning exploration of corporate greed in our health system. But alas, Songbird is a love story that uses all the things I wanted it to be as set dressings.
It tries to show class with the rich couple to whom Nico delivers packages and are clearly not abiding by lockdown protocol. But this instance only exists to help Nico save his girlfriend. Songbird also features a disabled veteran wheelchair user who could have served as a look at the impact lockdowns and the pandemic have on disabled individuals and communities, but he’s ultimately just a deus ex machina plot point.
And the other more spoilerly elements like a gastapo-esque head of the Department of Sanitation targeting the poor and working with the rich could have been fruitful storytelling. Instead, Songbird is a film that is filled with character actors who do well in their individual roles but when they come together for the larger story just crash into each other.
Now, if I have to say something nice about Songbird, Sara’s character and her relationship with her abuelita is refreshing. The Spanish doesn’t sound like it was taken from Google Translate, and it feels authentic in a way that made me want more. Plus Apa’s Nico apparently only owns crop-tops which is a win for leading man fashion everywhere. But that’s it.
Songbird is bland despite its attempts to be shocking or reflective. It’ll be interesting to see how the film is seen and interpreted by general audiences, but for now, for me, it’s a big “meh.” While I can appreciate the want to be timely, they probably should have left this one in isolation a bit longer.
Songbird is available now on Premium VOD.
Songbird is bland despite its attempts to be shocking or reflective. It’ll be interesting to see how the film is seen and interpreted by general audiences, but for now, for me, it’s a big “meh.”
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.