VOD film review: Songbird
James R | On 21, Jan 2021
Director: Adam Mason
Cast: KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, Demi Moore
Watch Songbird online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Is first always best? Not in the case of Songbird, a sci-fi thriller set during a global pandemic that – you guessed it – was made during the current global coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Adam Mason, the production does win some bonus points for the sheer audacity of making a film during the various lockdowns and safety restrictions that were introduced to keep the virus at bay – filming in and around Los Angeles in summer 2020, it was a bold and confident move that required practical smarts and ingenuity.
If only some of those qualities made it into the script. Mason and Simon Boyes’ screenplay whisks us forward to 2024, by which point the world is dealing with Covid-23 and has adjusted entirely to a new normal – temperature checks are built into smartphones and quarantine camps exist for those found to be infected. Jobs and lives have been built around what is now the status quo, and the film follows Nico (Riverdale’s KJ Apa), a bike courier who recovered from the virus and is now immune, who works for Lester (Craig Robinson), a guy who makes money from getting things to rich people – like William Griffin (Bradley Whitford), a record executive who spends his nights stealing away from his wife Piper (Demi Moore) to have an affair with a singer (Alexandra D’Addario).
Their lives, and several others (connected via virtual relationships and ailing elderly relatives), all collide in a web of black market wristbands that can mark someone out as immune and therefore free to move about as they please. While that’s not a terrible starting point, the film never manages to delve any deeper into lockdown or pandemic life – compared to say, Rob Savage’s Shudder hit Host, which tapped into the terror of isolation as well as the fear of connecting with loved ones, Songbird’s notes are distinctly shallow and exploitative, bordering on tasteless.
As a technical achievement, it’s a calling card that should put Mason (who helmed two episodes of Netflix’s Into the Dark) on the filmmaking map, and the cast (particularly Whitford and Apa) gamely grapple with the grim material – watch out for Richard Jewell’s Paul Walter Hauser and Peter Stormare as an absurdly villainous sanitation department boss. But the flourishes of timely ideas (the panic of a fever, the calm burning of clothes when arriving home) only highlight the myriad missed opportunities, with the central romantic relationship particularly awkward and misjudged. What Songbird leaves behind most of all is a cynicism that, while apt in light of how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled by authorities, doesn’t make for an enjoyable watch.
Songbird is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.