Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
The Trailer for Songbird made me angry. I nearly threw my phone across the room in disgust after watching it. It felt inappropriate and gross in the worst kind of way; the ultimate in bad taste. I mean, how else can you react to footage from what is being sold as a rousing Action-Thriller about a group of individuals navigating around a lethally mutating fictional virus called COVID-23 when we continue to be stuck at home dealing with the real life COVID-19? How are we supposed to find the typical thrills and fun in a project about a stark and viscerally dystopian future, when it does not feel far off from the one we are hurtling towards?
Credit where credit is due, the fact that Songbird was fully completed in the midst of a global pandemic is impressive. The filmmaking team employed a number of tricks when shooting the Film (likely influenced by Producer Michael Bay), and relied heavily on consumer grade equipment. If they shot more than a miniscule amount of film with atypical film cameras instead of on phones, drones, GoPros and digital handheld cameras, I would be shocked. That style gives Songbird a very eerie real world feeling, as does the fact that so much of the core Cast spends most of the Film acting completely alone or alongside one other person. The real world extensions Songbird invents are also quite clever – whether it be a machine that disinfects your packages, an infrared temperature-scanning app or a dual screen phone with no zero lag. While some may take offense to the allegorical use of Holocaust-like rhetoric and imagery (not to mention the obscene amount of coronavirus-inspired hysteria), it makes the nightmarish hellscape of Songbird feel even more horrifying and unsettling.
The action and Score are suitably thrilling enough, as is the choppy, frantic editing style taken from the Bayhem playbook. But where Songbird falters is in its characterization and pacing. All of the characters feel like thrown-together archetypes with minimal, clichéd motivations. They make stupid and often infuriating decisions – ones that would have felt substantially more asinine a year ago versus completely realistic now – and lack any real substance. What precious few details we do learn seem to be intentionally mysterious and barely explained. And because there are so many characters vying for the same amount of attention, the Film’s lean 84-minute running time actually feels stretched out about 25 minutes longer. Peter Stormare shines as the slimy, shady and deviously corrupt head of LA’s “Sanitation Department” Emmett Harland, as does Paul Walter Hauser as disabled Afghanistan war veteran Dozer. I wish we got to spend more time with both of these characters, and a whole lot less time with the budding love story between Nico (Riverdale’s K.J. Apa) and Sara (Disney’s Descendants’ Sofia Carson) that causes the Film to needlessly bloat in the second half.
I was apprehensive to watch Songbird and went in thinking the absolute worst. It is not an appropriate time to release a dystopian Thriller that looks like this, and there may never be another good time ever again. But under the circumstances it was made, the Filmmaking team did a good job crafting a gritty and frightening look at a future I sincerely hope we do not inherit. I just wish they spent the same amount of time on the story and characterizations that fill in this nightmare.
Elevation Pictures release SONGBIRD on Digital and On-Demand on Friday, December 11, 2020.