Set in the near future, Songbird tells a story that feels all too familiar. While a deadly pandemic lays waste to humanity’s way of life, everyone remains in complete lockdown out of fear for their lives. Only the brave few who are immune (called ‘Munies) are able to freely walk the streets, yet are forced to live lives of solitude and loneliness. One of these ‘Munies is Nico Price (KJ Apa), a local delivery boy who is involved in a passionate—yet, unfortunately, digital—relationship with his girlfriend, Sara Garcia (Sofia Carson). When May’s grandmother falls ill, Nico takes it upon himself to attempt to rescue the love of his life before she is dragged away to the quarantine zone.
Written and directed by Adam Mason, Songbird is a high-octane blast of fun that somehow still manages to tell an intimate story. Known for creating lower-tier horror movies, Songbird is Mason’s first attempt with a bigger budget and higher profile cast. Firing on all cylinders, the vast majority of the cast are energetic and solid in their performances, especially central couple Apa and Carson who have genuine chemistry though almost never together in the same physical space. Also notable is the ever engaging Bradley Whitford, who seems to have perfected the snarling villain role in recent years.
Produced by Michael Bay, the Transformers director’s fingerprints on the visual style of the film are unmistakable. Neon filters and lens flares mixed with a pounding soundtrack fit very neatly into Bay’s canon of films. However, whereas Bay often loses himself in his own over-use of fiery special effects, Mason keeps the focus intently on the characters and their stories. In doing so, Mason manages to avoid the over-indulgent trappings of ‘Bay-hem’ and create a story that feels more personal, even amidst its stylization.
Though the film’s setting and premise could be considered exploitative (or even insensitive), it also comes across as a cathartic experience. Rather than tip-toe around the current pandemic with a virus that sounds like the one we’re currently battling, Mason leans into the reality of the situation and simply names his virus COVID-23. In doing so, Songbird becomes its own form of response to a disease that has laid waste to our own way of life. (Maybe that’s why the cast feel so invested in their characters as well?)
As the characters fight to survive, we feel like we can fight along with them.
What’s more, within this pseudo-prophetic vision of the future, the real value of Songbird lies in its passion for human connection. With the world in lockdown and a deadly virus lurking outside, the film highlights a human race desperate to reach out to one another. Whether it’s late night trysts that stem from an unhappy marriage, online chats with strangers or watching movies together over the phone, the film shows a disenfranchised people looking for ways to combat the loneliness that stems from eternal lockdown.
To its credit, at a time when this vision of the future feels almost imminent in the real world, Songbird serves as a reminder of the necessity of human intimacy and love beyond our use of technology. When people are unable to touch one another except through glass, the very simple act of holding hands feels like the most intimate of moments but remains infinitely out of reach. In other words, the film recognizes that what humans ultimately desire more than anything else is neither sex nor another Zoom call.
They want to be free to experience the tenderness of loving, human touch.
Energetic and enthusiastic, Songbird is a ride that’s worth taking. Though there are those who will shy away from its pseudo-realistic storyline, in many ways Mason offers an emotional release to the tensions that we experience. While the pandemic has laid waste to the lives of his characters, Mason leans into the signs of hope that can be sparked in the midst of the darkness when love is set free.
And, at a time when reality feels like fiction, there’s nothing more important than that.
Songbird is available in select theatres and PVOD on Friday, December 11, 2020