Who asked for a movie about the COVID pandemic made during the COVID pandemic? The answer is nobody. And, sadly, now that we have that movie, Songbird, we can confirm it was as upsetting as it sounds. Directed by Adam Mason, the film stars Riverdale's KJ Apa as Nico, an immune bike courier in L.A. who wants nothing more than for him and his girlfriend, Sara (Sofia Carson), to escape the confines of the city. But when her grandma gets sick, the evil Department of Sanitation comes knocking. The story goes that if they detain you, you never escape. It's as silly and offensive as it sounds — this movie is set in the COVID-ravaged country where half of Fox News viewers believe a conspiracy theory that Bill Gates will use COVID vaccines to microchip and surveil Americans. So it doesn't get any better when Nico spends the rest of the movie trying to get Sara out of the grips of the government agency.
And if you're curious as to how this movie unravels that premise, but aren't sure if you can handle the anxiety surge that could come with actually watching it, we're here to answer your biggest questions.
When was Songbird filmed?
The film was shot in Los Angeles in just 17 days in July of 2020, which made it the first movie filmed in the city during the COVID pandemic. While film productions are now in full swing, and one of the activities considered to be "essential" by both California and the city of L.A., in July, this was all very new. And Songbird's production was reportedly had some snags. According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, the production was served a temporary stop-work order from SAG-AFTRA and there were claims of COVID-19 protocols being relaxed and or not followed. The film's producers denied those claims to THR saying, "I feel like, as much as humanly possible, we ran a safe set." And in a statement provided to Refinery29, producer Jason Clark said the reason for the shutdown was a “technical issue that arose in preproduction.”
What is COVID like in Songbird?
Well, well, well. This is where things get really messy, and also incredibly ridiculous. Songbird plays like the wet dream of a YouTube conspiracy theorist; it's set in 2024 and COVID-19 has now mutated to COVID-23. The movie doesn't bother with the nitty gritty details, but essentially, the virus acts the same as COVID-19, but with a much higher death rate. Society has mutated into a trope-filled post-apocalyptic landscape — complete with a smattering of deteriorating famous landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier and degraded L.A. skyline. In this new world order, anyone who isn't immune is confined to their house and shot on sight if they're not wearing an "immunity cuff." If you are found to have contracted the virus then you get dragged off to a "Q zone" which are essentially prison death camps that you never leave. It's all as InfoWars-lite as it sounds.
The only people who can run free in this COVID-23 world are "Munies" a.k.a. people who are immune like Nico, who spends a lot of time riding his bike around an empty L.A. How did the world get like this? How is he immune? Why has someone knocked down half of the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier? Unless we have the misfortune of seeing a sequel, we'll never know.
What is Songbird actually about?
If you're wondering what happens from the moment Sara's grandma gets sick, be warned that it's a lot. Nico asks a woman named Piper Griffin (Demi Moore) for help, but she sends him to his potential death at the hands of the evil sanitation leader (Peter Stormare). After Nico escapes with the help of a random vigilante, he breaks into Piper's house and holds her at gunpoint. Apparently, she's been illegally trafficking rich people using dodgy immunity cuffs to get them out of the city.
And so, after being helped by the cast of supporting characters who literally only exist for this one purpose, Nico uses this opportunity to secure an immunity cuff for Sara. It's an incredibly dangerous and selfish mission as he knows that she has potentially been infected. Even worse, at the beginning of the film, he's trying to get cuffs for both Sara and her grandma, even though he knows for a fact that the grandma is infected. In the film's very weak defense we do eventually learn that Sara is immune — but that comes after Nico already got her the cuff.
We should also probably mention here that in an inexplicable and very minor subplot Piper's husband Mr. Griffin (Bradley Whitford) has been abusing a sex worker, May (Alexandra Daddario) and forcing her to have maskless sex with him. But don't worry viewers, Mr. Griffin ends up getting his head blown off by one of Nico's co-workers, Max (Paul Walter Hauser), who just happens to have a military grade drone that he uses to off Mr. as the scorned man tries to kill May.
But none of that is really consequential to our pair of heroes because, they drive off into the sunset figuratively and literally. As they do so, Nico appeals to his ex-boss (Craig Robinson) to "never lose hope." It's probably a message the film wants us to leave with, but honestly the only thing that Songbird will make you feel is a resounding spiritual and existential query: Why did they make this?
So, what is the point of this movie?
There isn't one. That might sound overdramatic, but Songbird really has no clear message. At worst, it plays into the gnarliest and most dangerous of the COVID conspiracy theories that legitimately put people's lives at risk. At best, it's a corny, unoriginal sci-fi movie that was apparently made so Apa could ride a bike around shutdown L.A. The film was — according to the creators — pitched and plotted over a weekend, and boy does it feel like it. As we reach the end of the movie, hope belongs only to two conventionally hot, young lead characters — sound familiar? But for the rest of the inhabitants of the depressing and dangerous world of Songbird — just like the real people who are still living through a real health crisis — there is no miraculous get-out-of-pandemic-free card.