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K.J. Apa stars in Songbird.Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

  • Songbird
  • Directed by Adam Mason
  • Written by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes
  • Starring K.J. Apa, Sofia Carson and Demi Moore
  • Classification PG; 84 minutes

Rating:

1.5 out of 4 stars

Warning: If you are experiencing nausea, headache, fatigue or vomiting, you might have just watched Songbird.

Bearing the chef’s-kiss imprimatur of producer Michael Bay, Songbird arrives in our world as the most cruel cinematic joke of a magnificently unkind year. How would you like to spend 84 of your last minutes of 2020 watching a movie that imagines a 2024 in which the coronavirus has mutated into “COVID-23,” Americans have entered their 213th week of lockdown, and Los Angeles has set up concentration camplike “Q-zones” where infected individuals are sent to die in their own filth. Happy holidays, everyone! Here’s a punch to the crotch!

Still, there is something compelling about such a viscerally unpleasant idea. Completed during the thick of lockdown this past summer, making it the first feature-length narrative film to not only shoot during the pandemic but also dramatize it, Songbird has a chutzpah-y William Castle vibe to it. Dare to see the movie that will make you feel even worse than you already do, as if such a thing were possible! If Songbird were opening in theatres – it’s not, and you only get one guess as to why – I’m positive that Bay would have deployed Hazmat-suited ushers to burst into the auditorium midway, delivering an extra jolt of gimmicky terror.

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Sofia Carson plays the lock-downed beauty Sara.Courtesy of STXfilms/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Regrettably, imagining all the high jinks that might’ve been is the only entertainment that you’re going to wring out of Songbird. That and wondering how the film managed to enlist such a strong cast to shoot during the most uncertain time in Hollywood history. Either Bradley Whitford, Demi Moore, Craig Robinson, Paul Walter Hauser and Peter Stormare wanted to make history without checking the fine print of the screenplay, or were desperate to escape some very uncomfortable living arrangements of their own. Bradley, buddy, blink twice if you’re in trouble.

I suppose all those recognizable actors didn’t have to put in that many hours, as much of Songbird revolves around two would-be lovers played by performers only the young adults in your life might know: Riverdale star K.J. Apa as the COVID-immune courier Nico, and Disney Channel mainstay Sofia Carson as the lock-downed beauty Sara. While Nico can roam around L.A. freely thanks to his immunity bracelet, Sara cannot even open her apartment door, lest she be dragged away by the city’s Sanitation Department. But after Sara’s elderly aunt develops a fever, Nico has to race against time to get the woman he loves, but has never touched, to safety.

That might sound like an entertaining-enough tick-tock thriller, but Songbird is a hollow movie, exploitatively engineered and sloppily executed. Director Adam Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes’s lumpy script feels like it was completed as part of a long-abandoned Purge instalment, only now dusted off and spit-shined with a COVID-19 conceit. Meanwhile, Mason’s stylistic choices – whiplash-inducing cuts, and camera-work that alternates between GoPro-like first-person shots, video-chat screens and shaky-cam footage – are atrocious, unwatchable.

The good news about Songbird is that, unlike the coronavirus, the film is unlikely to affect your day-to-day life. But out of an abundance of caution, best to keep your distance.

Songbird is available digitally on-demand starting Dec. 11

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