“SONGBIRD”

Published On December 10, 2020 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“SONGBIRD”
​Starring KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, Demi Moore
Written by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes
Directed by Adam Mason
Produced by Michael Bay, Marcei A. Brown, Jason Clark, Jeanette Volturno, Adam Goodman, Andrew Sugarman, Eben Davidson
​Cinematography by Jacques Jouffret
Edited by Geoffrey O’Brien
Music by Lorne Balfe

The initial, instinctive reaction to hearing that a full-length feature film about a currently-ongoing virus pandemic is being released during that very real, very tragic pandemic would be one of “it’s too soon”–until you watch the entire film that is “Songbird” and realize: This is an excellent film. The film is stirring, exciting, suspenseful, scary, romantic–and meaningful. In addition to the overall quality of the film, “Songbird” offers a host of lessons and messages about fighting, living with, dealing with and surviving not just a virus pandemic–but also life and love itself during tragic times. In the end, the themes of “Songbird” wholly override any concerns about the fact that the film is about a virus pandemic and is being released during a virus pandemic. “Songbird” just happens to be the film that this upsidedown, stressed-out, weary world does indeed need and deserve right now. It’s never too soon for any film when the lessons, morals, themes and messages stand out as life warnings that everyone needs to look at, examine, think about, talk about, remember and, most importantly, take to heart.
“Songbird” is scheduled to be released everywhere on premium video-on-demand on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

“Songbird” makes all the moves for a movie that was shot during a virus pandemic, that is inspired by that virus pandemic, and that is about people surviving during a continually present and dangerous virus pandemic: the film doesn’t sensationalize, minimize, capitalize on, satirize, romanticize or even demonize the virus pandemic. The film simply presents a very real, very possible–and very frightening–slightly futuristic, slightly sci-fi, and quite dystopian and apocalyptic overall scenario in which weary, wary, trapped human beings, with their always-endangered backs up against crumbling walls, simply do what they must do to survive. And the movie shows all types of people doing all types of things to survive, including the good, the bad and the ugly among us. “Songbird” is also appropriately constantly frightening throughout its duration, and it’s frightening on several levels: besides the basic premise of a virus pandemic wiping out much of civilization, and causing what’s left of people in the world to live barricaded, alienated, suspicious, paranoid and terrifying lives that no one should have to lead, the movie is also frightening to watch considering the very-real COVID-19 virus pandemic of real-life 2020 that’s already prompting that lonely, scary, un-natural, non-normal behavior and existence, here and now, today and tomorrow.

It’s quite the cinematic–and psychological–experience to watch a movie about people trying their damnedest to just get by day by day without driving themselves literally crazy amid a raging, awful, devastating virus pandemic, while also, in real life, doing the same damned thing every day. But, as noted, and it’s not giving anything away, “Songbird” manages to rise above its story’s dire, dour circumstances and offer glimmers and glimpses and possibilities of real hope and survival, bolstered by the aforementioned grounding in what really matters in life–the intersection of life, love, love of life and a life of love. And “Songbird” manages to present this very basic aspect of life in a decidedly non-melodramatic, non-overly-sentimental and non-corny manner. The movie is wise enough to wrap its lessons in a constant level of filmic suspense, surprise, tension, science fiction elements, thriller elements and romance elements, all presented with a smart script, tight and assured direction, and stylized production design that always presents a believable future and society devasted by disease, flipped sideways by the new societal structure, and always on the verge of collapsing into despair, dust and history forever. All of this is bound together to present a science fiction suspense, romance and thriller that is of its time like very few recent movies are of their time.

An instantly likeable, energetic and moving performance by all of the lead actors bolsters “Songbird,” with everyone sharply focused, and reliably presenting their characters–good or bad–as completely stressed out, wiped out and tired while living–and, for many, barely living–amid that continually surging virus pandemic. An especially strong KJ Apa carries this movie in the lead role as Nico, a young, attractive, quite energetic and heroic early-twenties bike and motorcycle courier in 2024 who is one of the lucky survivors who is immune to what is known in 2024 as a mutated version of COVID-19 that has now killed literally millions of people in the United States, has not gone away, and has now rendered most of the country desolate, uninhabitable and literally dangerous any time someone steps outside their front door. In the movie’s terrifying world of 2024 amid a virus pandemic, no one can go outside most of the time; any time someone is found to be infected with the deadly virus, hazmat-clad and SWAT-team-clad law enforcement officers immediately arrive at the infected person’s house–and haul them away to the mysterious Q-zones. where infected people are incarcerated to get better–or die. Are dystopian quarantine zones a cliche? Yes. But are dystopian-like quarantine zones in various non-hospital settings an actual, real-life reality in real-life 2020? Yes. Thus, the filmic cliche of areas full of infected people being shut off from the rest of society suddenly becomes, well, not a cliche.

Meanwhile, quarantined, locked down and shut-in survivors do what they can to survive. Nico, thanks to his immunity—and wearing the specially-encoded, grid-system-registered and hard to find and difficult to duplicate yellow arm bands that identifies him as immune and thus free to travel–goes about his business freestyle, riding his bike and motorcycle here and there, across a desolate world and shattered landscape of nothingness with occasional stops at shops to pilfer unattended goods, especially art supplies for his shut-in artist girlfriend, a most beautiful, lovable young woman named Sara who Nico loves more than anything. Nico and Sara want more than anything what, really, all of us want–to be together with the person they love, to be free of the stifling, smothering madness, and to just escape to a better somewhere together, united, unafraid and with the ability to just simply live their life like any sane person should be able to live their life.

And, man, is that something anyone can instantly, immediately relate to in real life in 2020, especially. And the moviemakers–director Adam Mason and screenwriters Mason and Simon Boyes–know this. This insightfulness, perceptiveness and understanding of what people are going through in real life seeps deep into the heart and soul of “Songbird,” perfectly tying together the horrid realities of the real-life 2020 existence and the closely-related fictional life of 2024 in the film’s story. Part of the horror–and dark excitement–of watching “Songbird” is wondering: Is the desolated, destroyed, decayed, damaged and horrific world of 2024 presented in the movie actually what could or what might occur down the road, either from this current, real-life virus or from another, equally horrendous virus down the road? It’s a viable question, of course, and “Songbird” presents this clashing of real life and fictional life in such a knowing manner, you can feel the chills–that’s movie-going chills, not virus pandemic chills–while watching the film– because wondering about all of this is instinctive. And when a movie reaches in, finds that thrill-andchill spot, and prompts visceral, suspenseful reactions, well, then you know that the movie is making a point, making a strong emotional connection–and even entertaining the viewer at the same time, too.

“Songbird,” to its credit, accomplishes all of this while completely erasing that “is it too soon?” question from the filmic equation.

Besides the standout lead performances by Apa and Carson, the movie benefits from a most strong supporting cast. Craig Robinson performs so strongly as Nico’s courier business boss, it’s easily Robinson’s best role of his career–even better than his long-time role as Darryl Philbin on “The Office.” Hopefully, “Songbird” can lead to additional, similar dramatic roles for Robinson, because he is a strong presence in the film.

And so is an equally energized ensemble of actors.

Everyone seems to get what’s going on, and everyone fits smoothly into their roles: Peter Stormare frighteningly steals every scene he’s in with some bravura acting as the evil, dastardly, double-dealing devious administrator of 2024 Los Angeles’ Draconian Department of Sanitation, the lead agency in regulating, controlling and overseeing the virus pandemic. Yes, the Sanitation Department enforcement officers as presented in the movie are the same hazmat, heavy-breathing-through filters, anonymous, scary enforcement officers we’ve all seen in a thousand, nay, five-thousand sci-fi films throughout film history–but, considering, again, what we’ve been seeing in real life in 2020, the Sanitation Department of 2024 and Stormare’s criminal villian Emmett Harland aren’t really that far off from 2020’s reality, unfortunately. Alexandra Daddario perfectly encompasses that odd, modern-day real-life, virus-pandemic-era type of performer who, with a simple, emotional song on social media and the internets suddenly becomes equal parts hero, savior, performer and matinee star–and more. Daddario’s lonely, sheltered and quite poor character May survives by singing songs to people on social media, providing a bit of light in otherwise continually dark days and nights.

Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore are quite scary as a corrupt, criminal, devilish, damaged and deliciously unlikeable rich couple high in the hills who survive through quite questionable means. Whitford and Moore jump off the screen as completely horrid, vile and hateful people–and it’s pure fun, even amid the dire circumstances, to watch these actors get swallowed up by their characters’ awfulness. And the reliable, sturdy Paul Walter Houser is strong as Michael Dozer, the sidekick/tech whiz/war vet/wheelchair bound/drone operator who is that always much-needed high-tech go-to man who can be relied on for hacking, spying, communicating and connecting amid the madness during an apocalypse. One can’t help but compare Houser’s Doze to Kevin Smith’s equally reliable and sturdy Frederick “Warlock” Kaludis in 2007’s excellent, stand-out action film “Live Free or Die Hard,” which slyly, smooth and extravagantly just happens to be the best film in that crazy movie series. Dozer, like Warlock, provides some levels of comfort and saneness amid the confusion, and these characters offer a reminder that when and if the world goes dystopian and apocalyptic, we’re still going to need characters, and real-life people, like Dozer and Warlock. If, of course, the entire grid hasn’t gone completely under, too.

The script by Mason and Boyes accomplishes just what viewers would hope they would accomplish amid the current-world circumstances: a smart, thrilling, scary, frightening, suspenseful, thoughtful–and insightful–sci-fi thriller romance. And a movie that provides that aforementioned bookcase full of filmic lessons, morals, themes and messages, and, as noted, most importantly, presents the never-tired, never-cliched and always-important message that, whether it’s the real-life world of a virus pandemic in 2020, or a fictional movie world of a mutated virus pandemic in 2024, it’s never too late to remember the importance of always fighting to survive, always living to life and fight another day, and always remembering that love makes the world–even an insane, terrifying virus pandemic world–go round and round.

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