The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - SONGBIRD | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - SONGBIRD

songbird review
Amid a COVID pandemic, a courier attempts to flee a locked down Los Angeles with his girlfriend.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Adam Mason

Starring: KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, Demi Moore

songbird poster

When the world went into lockdown back in March 2020, the question on movie lovers' lips was "Will anyone shoot a film during lockdown?" Now we find ourselves asking "Did anyone not shoot a film during lockdown?" It seems like every opportunist with a camera quickly knocked out a movie while the streets were empty, with the results ranging from the exploitative Corona Zombies to the acclaimed 'Zoom-horror' Host. Songbird is a little different however. Released under Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes banner, writer/director Adam Mason's thriller boasts Hollywood production values and a cast featuring recognisable names like Demi Moore, Bradley Whitford and Alexandra Daddario.

Set in Los Angeles 2024, Songbird imagines a world four years into living with COVID-23. It seems that unlike COVID-19, no vaccine has been developed for this deadlier strain, and so the City of Angels, and presumably the rest of the world, remains in a state of lockdown. Citizens are forced to stay in their homes, and any who develop symptoms of the virus are taken away to the quarantine "Q-Zone", where they are essentially left to die.

songbird review

A tiny section of the population is immune to the virus however, and such folk are forced to work in essential jobs. Our hero, Nico (KJ Apa), is one such specimen, a bicycle courier. He spends his days riding around the city dropping parcels off to rich people in the Hollywood hills, and his nights sleeping outside the apartment of his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson), whom he can only communicate with by video calls or through her door. When Sara is threatened with being sent to the Q-Zone, Nico attempts to procure a black market "immunity passport" that will allow the couple to flee the city.

Songbird integrates its pandemic thriller into a well-established sub-genre. It's the latest ensemble film to portray Los Angeles as the world's loneliest city, following on from the likes of Welcome to LA, Short Cuts, Magnolia, Playing by Heart, Crash et al. Along with the central storyline of Nico and Sara, we get subplots featuring Daddario and Paul Walter Hauser as a singer and paraplegic military veteran who bond over video calls; Moore and Whitford as a wealthy couple who sell fake immunity bracelets; and an over-the-top Peter Stormare as a demented sanitation officer. None of these strands are particularly interesting, and have little to say beyond how boring it is to be stuck indoors all day.

songbird review

Mason's film also calls back to a surprising source - Kevin Costner's notorious 1997 flop The Postman. That movie was similarly set in a post-apocalyptic America, and featured a hero making essential deliveries to a depressed populace. It's best remembered for its unintentionally hilarious po-faced approach to a very silly concept, but Songbird gives it a run for its money when Nico intones in moody voiceover how he "wasn't delivering packages. I was delivering hope," as though we've been watching a feature length Amazon promo.

The biggest problem with Songbird is how it refuses to get off the fence and adopt a political stance. An already divided US has become even more bisected by COVID-19, with conservatives claiming it a hoax and liberals refusing to leave their homes, and Songbird feels wary of offending either side. It's never clear how the society it presents continues to function. Why are the immune happy to work while everyone else gets to sit at home? How are those who stay at home making a living - has the US finally accepted socialism and implemented a Universal Basic Income? Songbird hopes that we get wrapped up in its unconvincing romantic plot and don't bother thinking about such things. But seeing how the pandemic accelerated the gap between the haves and have-nots, it's impossible to erase such queries from our mind.

songbird review

If we hadn't lived through a less extreme version of Songbird, would it be more successful as a work of sci-fi? Possibly, though it's all so poorly conceived that there really isn't enough to sink our teeth into. Its cynical view of a world that has seemingly just given up the fight against the virus makes it almost impossible to embrace, and I couldn't wrap my head around why we would want Nico to physically unite with Sara, when everything the film had told us to that point suggested doing so would spell certain death for the young woman, given how riddled with the virus Nico's job had made him.

Perhaps in a decade or so, Songbird will have some value as a shoddy document of what we all went through in 2020, something for kids who are currently too young to fully grasp what's occurring can look at and appreciate why Mommy and Daddy were so stressed out back then.

 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.