If just watching the trailer for Micheal Bay’s upcoming pandemic film Songbird (to be released in 2021) doesn’t give you chills, you’re in the minority. The film takes place in what seems like a post-apocalyptic future – a world being ravaged by COVID-23 – and quite frankly it’s more terrifying than any of the ghost-ridden horrors we’ve written about before.
Is this film just too much, too real, and too soon? Or is it, as Adrian Horton writes for the Guardian, actually worthy of being labelled ‘exploitation cinema’?
The film’s 2-minute trailer shows a horrifying potential future in which strictly enforced lockdowns and martial law are commonplace. It’s clear that Bay and director Adam Mason have chosen to play on the fears we’re all harbouring about what will happen regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic over upcoming months and years.
“The film appears to extract the worst of the past six months, strip it of sensitivity and then paint it on doubly thick in big-budget, Hollywoodized, exaggerated style,” writes Horton. “This shoehorning of a real and ongoing tragedy which has killed 229,000 Americans and counting has not gone down well with some still in the grips of the pandemic”.
The film is being called “tone-deaf”, “disrespectful, and “in poor taste”, and its producers are being accused of exploiting a situation that millions of people are currently struggling through in real-time by the filmgoing public.
It’s not the first time quarantine has been used as the inspiration since the pandemic started. Netflix’s Social Distance, NBC’s, Connecting, and Japanese director, Shinichiro Ueda’s, film shot entirely on zoom have all used quarantine as the foundation of their plots – to varying degrees of success.
Horton argues, though, that where these productions sought some kindof insight from the pandemic situation, Songbird ” looks toward a stylized, worse future as popcorn entertainment and also appears to play into some of the worst rightwing conspiracy theories over government using the pandemic to exert control over people”.
Possibly, what makes this particular pandemic film even scarier is that it draws from very real events that have yet to play out. It’s bound to kindle fears that, contrary to what lawmakers were saying at the start of the pandemic, this virus is not a short-term thing. We have no idea what life will look like in 2024, and unlike with previous dystopian thrillers, this future seems alarmingly plausible.
It’s easy to condemn Singbird after watching the trailer, but without having seen the film itself, we can’t be sure there’s nothing redeeming about it. The cast, featuring Riverdale‘s KJ Apa, Descendants star Sofia Carson, and Demi Moore, is certainly far from awful.
According to DigitalSpy, Carson herself claims that the predominant theme of the film is one of hope.
“Even though this is the pandemic thriller and it’s suspenseful and terrifying, the heart of a story is hope,” she said. “It’s the hope that is represented in Sara’s character and the love between Sara and Nico. In our never-ending dark night, the songbird sings a song of hope.”
Songbird is set to be one of the most controversial films of the season, and we can only hope that Carson is right in saying that it has more to offer than simply exploiting the pandemic and cashing in on a situation that’s devastated millions around the world.
As with everything, pandemics included, only time will tell.