Review: Songbird Imagines the Next COVID Pandemic in Dull, Tasteless Terms

When the trailer for the Michael Bay-produced Songbird dropped, there was a loud chorus of “No” heard round the world. Set just a few years in the future and in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic caused by something called COVID-23, I can imagine more than a few potential audience members groaned at the idea of watching a film about an even deadlier virus than the one we’re dealing with currently. In the film, COVID-23 just lives in the air, and the only people who are safe from it are a tiny fraction of the population who are immune—they even get their own fancy wristband and can pretty much do whatever they want, since the streets are empty.

Image courtesy of STX Films

But the truth is, this is the perfect time for a movie like Songbird—but not Songbird itself, which is short-sighted, working on too small a scale (it was shot this year, and many of the individual storylines involve just one person or a pair of people living together). Seeing this future world devastated and decimated by disease, one might actually feel a little bit better about our situation, especially with a vaccine now in the world.

But this movie isn’t going to make anyone feel better…because it’s lame.

Directed and co-written by Adam Mason (writing with Simon Boyes), Songbird centers mostly on an immune bike courier named Nico (K.J. Apa) who works for a service run by a hard-nosed boss (Craig Robinson) who hounds to get his packages delivered in seemingly the only means of getting goods to people. One of their top clients is a well-off family consisting of Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford as mom and dad, along with their immunocompromised kid, who just happens to be involved in the black-market business of selling fake but authentic-looking immunity bracelets for extremely elevated prices.

Nico finds out they sell these and begs them to help him get a pair for his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson) and her grandmother.  Worried their secret business might be exposed, they send him to a false pick-up location intending for him to get killed by the head of the local sanitation department, a psycho played by Peter Stormare. The interesting thing about this version of the country is that the sanitations departments of the nation are the ones in charge of enforcing curfews and other virus laws, not the health department or military; and since the disease is so deadly, most of their work involves picking up and disposing of dead bodies. They also operate quarantine camps, where people who’ve contracted the disease are taken to die in a matter of days. Every U.S. citizen must perform a daily morning wellness check on their phone; if they appear ill, the armed sanitation department knocks down your door and takes everyone to a camp, period.

There are nonsense subplots concerning a would-be singer (Alexandra Daddario) caught in a gross relationship with Whitford’s character. She has a fairly strong online following, including a wheelchair-bound vet/fan (Paul Walter Hauser), who just happens to work for Robinson from time to time, and has a bit of crush on Daddario. See what I mean? All of this interconnectivity makes this world seem very small, and we never get a true sense of the scope of the devastation caused by COVID-23.

Although Songbird is misguided, opportunistic, and, oh yeah, not very good, it did get me thinking about other movies about massive outbreaks like this one, and what their common erroneous thread is. In films like Contagion or Outbreak, the supposition is that more or less everyone in the world would be on board with doing everything possible to end a pandemic as quickly as possible, and now we know that isn’t true. People are too wrapped up in self interests and conspiracy theories to worry about their fellow humans. All the pandemic movies got that wrong, and it breaks my heart.

But Songbird doesn’t concern itself with such petty sentimentality; it only seems to care about a pointless love story, a seedy affair, and an over-the-top villain who seems completely out of place in this movie. And in a movie about an apocalyptic pandemic, do we really need an extra-stabby human villain as well? Seems like overkill. Leave it to Michael Bay to produce something both tasteless, pointless and largely dull.

The film is available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.