Before it was even slated for release, the Michael Bay-produced, COVID-19-inspired pandemic thriller Songbird was already stirring up controversy. Apparently during the production, which unfolded in the midst of the pandemic, the crew was ignoring important safety protocols to help control the spread of coronavirus. Was it worth the trouble? Well, if the first wave of reviews is to be believed, the answer is a mostly resounding “no.”
If this is the first you’re hearing of Songbird, directed by Adam Mason, here’s the official synopsis:
In the terrifying thriller Songbird, the COVID-23 virus has mutated and the world is in its fourth year of lockdown. Infected Americans are ripped from their homes and forced into quarantine camps known as Q-Zones, from which there is no escape, as a few brave souls fight back against the forces of oppression. Amid this dystopian landscape, a fearless courier, Nico (KJ Apa), who’s immune to the deadly pathogen, finds hope and love with Sara (Sofia Carson), though her lockdown prohibits them from physical contact. When Sara is believed to have become infected, Nico races desperately across the barren streets of Los Angeles in search of the only thing that can save her from imprisonment …or worse.
A handful of critics have already seen the movie, and the consensus doesn’t paint much of a positive portrait. Michael O’Sullivan at The Washington Post called the movie “deadly dull” and wrote in his review just one compliment:
“I’ll say one other nice thing: The film isn’t terribly long. You’ll keep waiting for the suspense to kick in. Spoiler alert: It never really does, except feebly, after about an hour and 15 minutes. And then, unceremoniously, it’s over.”
Yikes. Alonso Duralde at The Wrap doesn’t have any kind words for the movie either. On top of saying “there’s no point” to the thriller, he also wrote:
“‘Songbird’ doesn’t even offer the prospect of staggeringly bad taste or questionable politics; it’s less “Too soon!” and more “So what?” We’re left with just a standard-issue post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller, albeit one with a massively overqualified cast of actors.”
Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter forgives the film’s low production quality due to the limitations of being produced during the pandemic, but that’s hardly the biggest problem of the movie. His review said:
“It would be churlish to criticize the film’s low-level production values, since, well, it was filmed during a pandemic. But that doesn’t prevent one from pointing out the simplistic nature of the script by director Mason and Simon Boyes, which feels as perfunctory as the obviously rushed production schedule must have necessitated. Despite the high-stakes drama, there’s nary a compelling moment throughout, and some of the characterizations, especially Stormare’s villainous Sanitation Department honcho, are so absurdly one-note that it’s hard not to think that the film is meant as parody.”
Richard Roeper at The Chicago Sun-Times is a little more kind in his review, but not exactly complimentary, writing:
“If you can set aside the dubious decision to use COVID as a plot point when we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, this is a harmlessly forgettable actioner with the talented cast doing their best to inject some humanity and empathy into an empty-calories plot, with the standard techno-score incessantly pounding away.”
There is one reviewer who seems to be more upbeat about the movie. Benjamin Lee at The Guardian writes that Songbird is an “acceptably watchable thriller that’s more notable for what it achieves technically than anything else.” He also wrote:
“Despite the many familiar ingredients of Songbird (some of which start to feel musty by the convoluted last act), there’s an undeniable jolt in seeing a glossy thriller rooted in a version of the grim reality we’ve all been facing this year. Taking elements we’ve come to know so well (from the viral terminology we spout daily to the isolated way we now live) and using them to create an even scarier world is, at times, mightily effective, if also a little bit exploitative to some.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Ehrlich at IndieWire gave the the most harsh criticism by saying the movie “somehow makes COVID even less fun.” He added:
“It makes all too much sense that the first mainstream American movie shot during and inspired by COVID-19 would insist government-imposed quarantines are worse than any disease and that super-spreaders are hot and cool and ride motorcycles. After all, it’s hard to make a high-octane action spectacle about people practicing personal responsibility despite an unforgivable lack of federal support. But films have a funny way of revealing the truth about the world in which they were made, even when they’re lying through their teeth. And “Songbird,” to its credit, is definitely one of them.”
Well, this certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of thriller that anyone is going to be in the mood for this December when we’re still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, things are worse now than they were earlier in the year, and there’s no sign of them getting better until we get a vaccine. Maybe it would have been best to let this idea simmer a little longer instead of rushing it out there in an attempt to be the most relevant and topical movie on the scene.
Songbird is slated for a release on premium VOD starting on December 11, 2020.
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