What movies does one watch during a pandemic? Brilliant classics? Dumb comedies? Brilliant comedies? Films about, um, pandemics?
There has been a lot of chatter this week on social media about upcoming thriller Songbird, a romantic thriller made during the pandemic and envisaging a world in a few years’ time where the COVID situation has only got worse – and most of that chatter has been negative.
I can see why to many people Songbird, written and filmed in the US over the spring and summer, looks exploitative and in very bad taste. There are also concerns that it could boost anti-maskers with its message about a government infringing on civil liberties, and at the very least it is simply appearing way too soon.
Songbird is set in 2022; COVID-19 virus has mutated and has a mortality rate of over 50%. Infected residents are locked up in quarantine camps. Nico (KJ Apa) is immune, and works as a bicycle courier. He’s also in love with Sara (Sofia Carson) who is confined to her apartment, though I don’t think they’ve actually met. And all this while in real life we are battling a second wave and rising fatalities, with countries putting the worst affected cities back into lockdown. Worldwide over a million people have died of COVID-19, with 60,000+ in the UK alone.
On a personal level though, I do find watching these kinds of films quite cathartic, and interesting. Dystopian movies have always made me plan, too (I’m not a prepper but neither do I assume society could never collapse). I’m not sure my planning is up to much – several out-of-date bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk won’t get us far – but it’s a start, and at least it meant it took us ages to run out of loo roll when Boris locked us down back in March.
It was around then that I watched Contagion, which I loved (and reviewed). Admittedly, Songbird looks a different kettle of fish; it’s produced by Michael Bay for a start, and it’s appearing mid-pandemic rather than before. Also, watching Contagion was actually pretty helpful. I learnt a lot: like how many times a minute we touch our faces, and why we shake hands. I’m not sure I can see Songbird telling us anything we don’t already know, and it could well be one of those disaster films that manages to be both earnest and exploitative.
There’s no release date for Songbird yet. Maybe it’ll flop – it would feel VERY weird watching it in a cinema. Maybe in a few years we’ll revisit it and it’ll seem like an intriguing oddity, or perhaps it will even then be held up as a tone-deaf disaster movie of a different kind.
Still, we can’t ever really get away from what’s happening. I also, like many other critics, somehow managed to find a COVID-19 angle to loads of films I watched this year that were filmed long before the pandemic hit – and I can’t watch a scene where people hug with abandon without feeling slightly shocked, even if it’s from 1987.
How quickly we have become used to a changed world.
If you do want to watch the trailer, you can see it here.