It’s a curious thing, Adam Mason’s “Songbird.”
The film, a mid-budget thriller, would have been the type of film in the 1980s to have metaphorically represented the “what if?” if the U.S. and Russia had nuked each other, something I lived through. Films such as “Red Dawn” represented the “what if?” scenario quite effectively, but it never placed blame or deflected responsibility; it showed the horrors for those potentially left in its wake.
With “Songbird,” Mason attempts to use the tack to show what might happen if we don’t get COVID under control (this is not a PSA, folks, but wear a mask when you’re out and about.)
The script by Mason and Simon Boyes has all the trappings of a good, dystopic sci-fi story that it became blasé. Audiences don’t want to be reminded of their situation, even if sometimes we need a true reflection of the horrors of our decisions or indecisions.
Mason and Boyes layer elements of our modern society in a rather sophisticated way, first by setting the film in the not too distant future – 2024. COVID-19 has spun out into COVID-23, where citizens are now required to use their cell phones to read their temperatures, and if they are found to be sick, they’re ignominiously hauled off to a quarantine zone.
Sara Garcia (Sofia Carson), an artist with an amazing gift for the visual medium is the whole reason for the story – her lyrical voice is music to Nico’s (KJ Apa) ears. Though they’ve never met each other in person, only talking through a door because Sara is isolated and Nico is immune to COVID-23, they’ve still fallen for each other.
Mason attempts to build our emotional investment in Sara’s plight when her caretaker becomes infected, running the risk of Sara having to be remanded to a quarantine zone, also referenced as a concentration camp.
It didn’t occur to me until just now, but each of the main characters is ornithological in nature: Sara, the songbird; KJ Aapa is the pigeon. Peter Stormare plays the hawk, Harland, while Craig Robinson as Lester and Paul Walter Hauser as Dozer are the owls, observing events from a distance, offering warnings where necessary. Hauser’s character has more to do with the substory featuring Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford, circularly connecting with Nico’s story.
Bearing in mind that each of the main characters have an ornithology about them, the story makes a bit of sense – everyone is in flight because none of the characters wants to get trapped within the nightmare surrounding them.
And that’s the challenge with the film: we only see the fight-or-flight reaction and desire to bring two people together during a time where people are and should be separated. The other challenge is that, even if the pandemic wasn’t still in full-on rage mode, dystopic sci-fi films are so close to our own reality that they tend to hit far closer to home to be effective than, say, “Red Dawn” did in the mid-’80s.
“Songbird” contextually made sense. It should serve as a bellwether for the times we live in; as much as I favor PSA films like this, it does fly just a little too close to home for my tastes. Perhaps it will serve as a warning of what not to do, and future historians will have more sage advice than I. For now, take the warning with a grain of salt: you don’t need to see the film, and yet you’re drawn to it because of its very nature.