It is the year 2024 and COVID-19 has mutated into a more deadly virus than ever before. In America, people infected with the virus are forced from their homes and taken to quarantine camps known as "Q-Zones". ‘Songbird’ introduces us to a number of figures living against this backdrop, focussing particularly on Nico (KJ Apa), a courier with a rare immunity to the virus. He has never even been in the same room as his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson), but is totally besotted with her. When an infection breaks out in Sara’s apartment block, Nico must race against time to save her.
Is a film like ‘Songbird’ here too soon? The answer is yes, but then the box office will tell us what the audience is ready and eager for (this reviewer is doubtful – though who knows? It does seem like the type of movie that could spawn a cult following some years from now).
You’ve got KJ Apa in the lead to attract those YA viewers anyway, and Demi Moore for the more nostalgic audience. Michael Bay’s name is attached too – as producer, not director mind you. For who’d want to take responsibility for what many will regard as an atrocity and pure exploitation? One director-writer Adam Mason is who, his credits including movies you’ve never heard of that had to lead to something like this – ‘Blood River’, ‘The Devil’s Chair’, ‘Hangman’ and ‘Junkie’.
You’ve got the “Q-Zones” there drawing various associations with the treatment of refugees and concentration camps; and a class-based prejudicial system which is so rammed down your throats it’s like, ok, we get it. More effective is the camerawork, alternating between shaky cams, establishing shots of emptiness, close ups of emotionally torn faces, and TV/phone screens since most people, as would be expected, live their lives online now. The Nico-Sara plot is fairly eye roll-inducing and uninteresting. Much more touching is a side plot involving a singer and former soldier – Alexandra Daddario and Paul Walter Hauser impress with their performances here.
Other storylines involve a family which includes a vulnerable daughter and catty parents, played by Moore and Bradley Whitford. While the former’s performance nonsensically recalls Patricia Clarkson’s as the antagonist in ‘The Maze Runner’ series, Whitford appears to have been directed to just play his ‘Get Out’ character again (in fact, his character here actually yells “Get out” repeatedly at one point, but surely that was more accidental than a clever reference on the screenwriter’s part, right?). Then Craig Robinson plays, well Craig Robinson, your go-to comic relief.
As the apparent first feature to be made during the pandemic in LA, the haphazard nature of the production is more than apparent. It’s so rushed together that parts of the dialogue jump, lacking cohesion as to how certain places and conclusions were arrived at. The plot jumps too, indicating the disorderly script, and the crossovers just feel forced. Top that off with an ending that happens suddenly and messily, with a revelation that removes any possible tension or excitement from the conclusion, and the entire endeavour feels rather pointless. At least thrill seekers should get a kick from it, but don’t expect anything profound, smart or sincere.