Songbird | 2020 | starring K.J. Apa, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Demi Moore, Alexandra Daddario, Peter Stormare | directed by Adam Mason | 1 hr 24 mins |
The cinematic equivalent of a kid on a message board yelling “First!” with nothing else to say, Songbird is an apparent thriller about the Covid-19 pandemic released 11 months after the virus raced around the world. It immediately received accusations of being opportunistic and fear-mongering from a press that blurted out “Hey, that’s our job!” and the easy-target involvement of producer Michael Bay. Songbird, hiring music video director Adam Mason to do the dirty work, only wishes it looked as good as a Michael Bay movie. That a shockingly large rooster of name actors signed onto this just shows that half these Hollywood goons have no shame at all and would do absolutely anything for a paycheck. Not because it’s a tasteless movie, because the final product is slapped together, incompetent garbage. This production value here is one step above someone at Platinum Dunes shooting a reality porn video in their living room.
Nico (K.J. Apa, Riverdale), a bike messenger working for his boss Lester (Craig Robinson), cruising around Los Angeles thanks to an arm band signifying his immunity to Covid-23, a mutant version of Covid-19 now plaguing the world in 2024 with 8 million dead in the U.S. and counting (we know because someone paid for a billboard in LA with the death toll on it). When his girlfriend, Sara (Sofia Carson)’s grandmother comes down with the virus (somehow), he races to try to get a black market travel wristband from a couple trading in the contraband (Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford) to help them escape the wrath of a Department of Sanitation goon (Peter Stormore). There is also a web cam girl (Alexandra Daddario) who forms a bond with a paralyzed war veteran (Paul Walter Hauser) as the two deal with endless lockdown.
First and foremost, Songbird looks like dogs**t. Roughly assembled from stock footage, news-reels, and shots of Nico’s motorcycle coming to a stop in front of the camera. The movie takes full advantage of a lockdown storyline to sit every actor but Apa in a single location for the duration of the film and seems clearly shot by a cameraperson running-and-gunning around Los Angeles capturing shots of empty streets. Mason does his best to emulate Bay’s florescent visual style, but without the glossy sheen. The movie looks grimy, is hyper-edited and feels like you need a shower after watching it.
The story is barely there, how could it be with how quickly it was raced into production. Sara spends the entire film in quarantine with her grandmother without a symptom and its’ supposed to be a shock that she might also be immune. When Daddario gets attacked by an overzealous fan blackmailing her, we’re supposed to pump our fists when the veteran’s remote-operated drone comes to her rescue. He’s always got her six. Cringe. While not a Michael Bay film, a Covid story does fold neatly into two of Bay’s biggest trademarks: military adoration and government conspiracy theories with Mason forcing Hauser to talk in military cliches and Stormore to chew up every inch of scenery.
Songbird remains empty. It’s not thrilling, it’s not sobering or satirical. It drops the kernel of a real world scenario into your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian movie without a single new idea to bring to the table. And it’s not even so bad that it’s funny – it’s just awful.
Safer at Home | 2021 | rated R | directed by Will Wernick | 1 hr 22 mins |
… and speaking of kernel. If there is a movie I’ve seen this year worse than Songbird – hell, if there is a movie worse than this year’s Netflix/Melissa McCarthy debacle Thunder Force – it might be Safer at Home. A movie that cranks the fear-mongering up and does even less to earn it. Between it’s newsreel footage beginning and it’s smug eye-rolling ending, Safe at Home is largely a story that could have been told (and often is) without the mention of Coronavirus at all. And yet it almost has to have been rushed out inspired by the pandemic lockdowns because any other movie made for any other reason would have had more thought put into it to make the basic beats work.
Safer at Home is essentially a found footage movie. Set up like Unfriended, we watch the 4 video call screens of a group of friends from around the country gathering for a virtual birthday party. One of the couples has mailed them all Molly to do at the virtual party however things start to get heated after a game of Never Have I Ever. When one of the couples starts to fight his girlfriend falls over, bangs her head and dies.
That’s it. That’s the plot. That’s the set-up and the payoff. The reset of the film is watching 6 obnoxious, stoned cliches (the party girl, the flamboyant gay couple, the friend group outsider) spun up in an irrational panic thinking they are all going to be charged with murder and, instead of taking one second to explain the accident, flee from the scene and spark what seems like an army of cops flooding the streets to look for the 2 guys outside of curfew. This movie is set 2 years earlier than Songbird (2023) with an astronomically high Covid body count prediction (60 million!).
In this look at two bad Covid movies, Songbird and Safer at Home compete for the most unintentionally hilarious scene. That tin ear for fear-mongering in Songbird comes when Bradley Whitford shows up to get a lapdance from Alexandra Daddario while she wears gloves, a mask and a face shield and he wears an oxygen mask. But that’s nothing compared to Safer At Home. In the funniest scene in both of these movies, an LA curfew agent shows up at the door of one of the characters. While dressed in full head-to-toe paramilitary gear complete with oxygen mask and helmet shield, he ask her to put on a mask before he enters. She puts on this dainty little cloth mask and he decides it’s now safe. It’s hilarious.
Barely a movie at all, Safer at Home is one of the most empty-headed, slapped-together pieces of fear porn exploitation you can watch. And that’s saying something. That smug ending also wraps everything up in a tone-deaf way. Flashing back to a year prior, our characters are wrapping up their first lockdown marked by watching a speech from the President that Covid will one day go away (an event that never happened, but whatever) and we’re supposed to be horrified that this false promise of hope would lead to such a horrific outcome. Except a woman falling and banging her head has nothing to do with Covid and the resulting deaths and despair that ensured are all the result of the stupid decisions of the characters. Similarly, in 2023 we’ll be able to look back at Safer at Home‘s insane death count prediction of 60 million and cringe. There is nothing redeeming here.