2020 has been the best of times and it has most definitely been the worst of times—and it looks like it’s about to get even worse. On October 29, the first trailer was released for producer Michael Bay’s Songbird, an action-packed, Transformers-esque film about the current COVID-19 pandemic that’s set to be released on VOD on December 11.
Coined as a romantic thriller, the film—which stars Riverdale’s KJ Apa alongside celebs like Demi Moore and Alexandra Daddario—shows us the United States in 2024. We’re four years into the pandemic, there’s now a deadlier strain called COVID-23 (frickin’ great) and an authoritarian government is forcing anyone infected into quarantine camps (or Q-Zones).
But alas folks, not to worry, because our Archie Andrews is immune! Apa’s Nico, a bike messenger, is trying to reunite with his love who is currently under lockdown, all while rallying against the oppression of a corrupt sanitation department that physically drags people from their homes into Q-Zones. Chaos (and a messy storyline) ensues complete with car chases, jump scares and a layer of grime on everyone and everything in frame. It’s as if The Purge and Contagion had a gross, pandemic love child. And I absolutely hate it.
And also, we have so many questions. Like, in the words of FLARE’s managing editor Jenn Berry: Michael Bay, how dare you?!
First of all, when did they even film Songbird?
Considering we are eight months into a global pandemic, with most film and TV production shut down from March until August or early September of this year, we have to ask: when did Michael Bay and co. even find the time to write, cast and film this action-packed film?
Yes, some projects like Sam Levinson and Zendaya’s Malcolm & Marie *did* film during quarantine—with this specific small project shooting between June 17 and July 2—it was made very clear that all COVID-19 protocols were followed, with the cast and crew quarantining separately for two weeks before rehearsal and shooting began and doing all of their rehearsals in an open-air parking lot. That upcoming film also operated with a very limited cast and crew.
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But this doesn’t look like a small production. Michael Bay is the man behind the massive Transformers series, and Songbird looks similar to the popular robot films in terms of production value and just overall scale. So again, we ask: when in the heck did they film this?! Chances are, because this is Hollywood baby, as soon as there were rumblings of a pandemic, the powers that be went into overdrive, casting the actors via Zoom and flying them in to a secure set to film. Perhaps this film is *actually* the true answer behind Demi Moore’s mystifying carpeted bathroom? Perhaps she was doing her Zoom audition for Songbird! That bathroom did feel like another sign that the apocalypse was coming, so seems fitting for this movie.
While logistically there may be an answer as to when Hollywood managed to make a massive film about the pandemic while in the midst of the pandemic, that doesn’t answer for the morals of the film. The trailer kind of makes it seem like we were all probably just getting into the pandemic—adjusting to our new realities, trying to retain our jobs and generally feeling very anxious—and Bay and co were already thinking of ways to capitalize on it. Which honestly feels kind of icky.
What the heck is the genre of Songbird?
Our second question is what genre is this film, exactly? Online it’s described as a “romantic thriller,” and let me tell you, “romantic” and “thrilling” are two of the last words I would ever use to describe the COVID-19 pandemic (despite the fact that said pandemic *has* led to some new relationships, left people questioning current ones, and resulted in some baby making).
Between the horror movie-style jump scares, the FaceTime romance and the forced social commentary on government control, there are about 10 different genres of film going on in this short trailer. What are we supposed to take away from this? Are we meant to root for Nico and his quarantined love, who I’m sorry, but should definitely remain quarantined so that she doesn’t infect other people? Are we meant to be angry at the extremist government, who again, just seem to be wanting the virus to stop spreading? And are we supposed to believe that Nico and his knock-off Livestrong bracelet are somehow going to stop the pandemic? (Because TBQH, I am 100% *not* rooting for Nico to stick it to the man and release infected COVID patients into the general public.)
Also, why does this trailer give me Fast and the Furious vibes?! There is so much confusion.
Does KJ Apap have the dramatic chops for a film like Songbird?
No offence to KJ Apa, but if there was ever going to be a film about an ongoing pandemic that has cost millions of people around the world their jobs and their lives, it would need to be done with compassion, care and nuance. All traits I am sad to say I don’t feel like this film has. (But fingers crossed that I stand gravely corrected once it’s released.) Because when you try to throw a thriller, an action movie, a romantic film and a social commentary into one film, you typically get what is scientifically referred to as a hot mess.
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Apa is a great leading man in Riverdale; he’s hunky, sensitive and looks great as a redhead. But let’s be honest, that show is also completely off the rails. If anyone’s going to bring a film about the pandemic to the big screen, I would feel much more reassured if it was someone with a bit more experience with intense dramas. Perhaps Adam Driver or Oscar Isaac? Heck, I would even pay to see Lili Reinhart front this film.
Do we *really* need a movie like Songbird?
The answer to this is obviously no. Sorry to fans of thrillers around the world, but part of the reason the thrillers we see on-screen are so engaging is the fact that they’re relatable enough while usually being about something that would never actually happen to you. That’s what the intrigue is about! The attraction to great thrillers is in the balance—being stalked by a serial killer or facing an apocalypse *could* in theory be within the realm of possibility (hence the thrill), but is quite unlikely (hence the feeling of safety which allows you to watch said movie). There is none of this intrigue with Songbird because we’re literally living in the middle of it right now. Yes, we’re not in as quite a dire position IRL as the characters in the film are, but honestly, the U.S. in 2024 is a little too close for comfort to the U.S.A of 2020.
And with so many people around the world having lost family and friends, as well as their livelihoods, to COVID-19, it feels a little insensitive to turn IRL storylines into fodder for box office views.
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And why in the heck did they do Bob Marley so dirty?
Finally, perhaps the most egregious part of the recent trailer was the fact that they used a slowed-down version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Which, in of itself is a beautiful song, but slowed down à la “I Got 5 on It” in Us isn’t giving us the desired effect of creeping, eerie unease, but rather, blind rage. Because is nothing sacred?!
So no thank you Michael Bay, I will not be watching the upcoming pandemic thriller Songbird. 2020 is enough of a horror show already.