There’s nothing like a truly great disaster movie. It takes us out of our everyday lives and allows filmmakers to either shed light on a possible or actual scenario, a la The Day After Tomorrow or Titanic, or simply have fun exploring a ridiculous concept, like Sharknado or Mars Attack. In the year of 2020, when the world continually gives off major “disaster movie” vibes, sure it’d be easy in theory to take advantage of the empty city streets of lockdown early in the year or go a step further and dramatize the very real tragedy of COVID-19. But that's in theory… I don’t want to see a COVID-19 disaster movie. Nevertheless, producer Michael Bay and writer/director Adam Mason are really just going for it anyway with Songbird.
Earlier this year, most productions were unable to get to work in Los Angeles due to California restrictions placed on Hollywood. In July, Songbird was given permission to film, and it became the first LA-based movie to begin production since COVID-19. Check out the trailer for Songbird below:
Ok, so who asked for this? I’m seriously not one to bog down a piece of work, especially before I’ve seen it. In this case though, Songbird crosses a rare filmmaking line. It would be one thing if the movie was serving as a record for the tragedy that is COVID-19 to shed light and archive on the situation we are currently in, but this movie is imagining a worse version of our reality and twisting it into an “exciting” and “thrilling” addition to Michael Bay’s Bayhem. Let’s get into it, and you can decide if it's too soon for Songbird and more pandemic movies sure to follow:
What Is Songbird, Michael Bay’s Pandemic Movie?
As the trailer introduces, Songbird follows Los Angeles residents in the year 2022, at a time when COVID-19 has mutated into a worse version called COVID-23. The world is in its 213th week of the global pandemic (the same one we are currently living in). Eight million people have reportedly died in the United States in that year alone and there is a 110 million death toll worldwide. America is moving its citizens to quarantine camps, with a select “immune” few allowed to roam around the city, like Riverdale’s KJ Apa. His girlfriend Sara, played by Sofia Carson, is dealing with her own mother contracting the virus as officials get ready to take her away. It looks like Songbird will have Apa’s character attempting to save his girlfriend amidst the raging pandemic and America’s intense lockdown in place.
Songbird was given permission to film in Los Angeles thanks to the unique circumstances in place within the plotline. Because it's a COVID movie, the production could have its actors on set wearing masks, and something that might be a challenge for another production – such as the Elvis Presley biopic needing crowds for its concert sequences – is not an uphill battle Songbird would need to deal with. So yay for safety, but also… WHY?
Songbird Is Not Creative, It’s Just Mean
I’m all for a timely film. The Trial of the Chicago 7, for example, was the perfect movie to come out right now because it highlights a prevalent issue, but through the lens of a period piece that was in development long before the Black Lives Matter protests occurred. Something like 2010’s Contagion, which predicted a lot of what went down with COVID, is also welcome (if you can stomach it right now) because it was implementing real scientific evidence to imagine a scenario that turned out to be pretty dead on. Movies can and should reflect what’s important to us as a society, and the medium’s ability to present uncomfortable topics and promote discussion is one of the reasons why I love movies.
In another context, Songbird does look entertaining, but it does not look like it’s opening up a valuable conversation. It looks like it exists just to add extremes and shock value to an already traumatizing collective experience we’re all still processing on a daily basis. For someone to jump two years into the future using the actual events happening now as a reference point is not creative or interesting. It’s merciless and cold. Imagine literally any other traumatizing world event doing this while we were in the thick of it. If we were in the thick of World War II, do you think we would want to see an imagined circumstance where it got worse? No, that’s why musicals and cartoons started to get super popular back then.
The “Pandemic Movie” Could Keep Spreading
At the end of the day, Songbird is just a movie. It’s an intriguing experiment and we’ll have to see how things play out whenever it comes out. And to each their own. While I’m clearly turned off by it, you may be super excited by it and that’s okay. In some ways, it’s doomed to be popular if only for its subject matter. It’s the car-crash-on-the-side-of-the-road effect. You know you probably should not slow down your car and see what’s happening, but everyone does it anyway. This is the very reason why I wanted to open this conversation about Songbird. Let’s say it becomes a hit; it has Michael Bay’s name on it, so it could happen! Will Hollywood then take notes and continue to make more pandemic-centered films?
It’s already sort of happening behind the scenes. There are probably already at least five pandemic movies that could be ready to go at any moment. Writer/director Mostafa Keshvari made Corona, which is about a group of neighbors trapped in an elevator inciting a spread of “fear and racism” among them “faster than the virus.” Shudder released Host, which on the flip side is a well-handled example of a pandemic movie made over Zoom about a group of friends who do a video chat seance. I’m curious what you think about this growing trend? Do you like to see movies like Songbird tackle this global pandemic head on? Or is it too soon? Vote in our poll below!
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YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.