KJ Apa's new movie about the pandemic could be the most controversial of 2020

Ian Sandwell
·6-min read
Photo credit: STX Films
Photo credit: STX Films

From Digital Spy

There's no such thing as bad publicity goes the old saying and Riverdale star KJ Apa's new movie Songbird might just be about to push that to its limit.

We knew back in May that Michael Bay was producing a new pandemic thriller, which had already set alarm bells slightly ringing. However, nobody was prepared for what the movie would end up being until a first look was released this week.

Songbird takes place in 2024 in a world where COVID-19 has mutated into an even deadlier strain of the virus with a mortality rate of more than 50 percent. 110 million people have died worldwide and the world is into the fourth year of lockdown.

But this isn't a Threads-style look at the worst possible scenario of the ongoing global pandemic.

Instead, it's just the setting for a viral Romeo and Juliet with Apa's courier Nico – who has COVID immunity – falling in love with Sara (Descendants star Sofia Carson), despite the fact that the two have never met due to the lockdown rules.

Photo credit: Courtesy of STXfilms
Photo credit: Courtesy of STXfilms

"It's a dystopian, scary world, but it's a romantic movie about two people who want to be together, but they can't," director Adam Mason, who also co-wrote the movie with Simon Boyes, told EW.

"It's Romeo and Juliet, but they're separated by her front door and by the virus."

If you need a second read of that description to wonder just how anybody thought it might be the right time for such a movie, you wouldn't be the only one as Songbird has already received a major backlash online.

Even before the trailer had been released today (October 29), the movie has been called "insensitive", "disrespectful", "in poor taste" and "quite possibly one of the shittiest attempts at cashing in on human suffering".

And those were the kinder ones.

Songbird won't mark the first time that the ongoing global crisis has been referenced on screen, but it's the first time that the pandemic has been used as the starting point for something.

What's more, it's the first time that somebody has imagined a bleak future for the ongoing crisis.

If you're thinking maybe it's a case of bad timing, and the writers just decided to adapt their script for the current situation, it's not. That's not how Songbird was created, as the movie didn't exist as an idea at the start of the year.

According to the EW article, Mason received a phone call in March when parts of the US went into lockdown from Boyes who was "surprisingly excited" by the prospect of filming something about the pandemic during the actual pandemic.

Songbird filmed for 17 days in locked-down Los Angeles with a small crew and under strict safety measures. "It was really eerie, but the way we shot was every actor's dream," recalled Apa.

Photo credit: STX Films
Photo credit: STX Films

Whether you want them or not, there will likely be other movies and TV shows that will be centred on – or influenced by – the COVID-19 pandemic. The question for Songbird is whether now is exactly the time to be create a dark fictionalised future for a pandemic that remains a terrifying thing for many people around the world.

Viral thrillers aren't new, so by all means take inspiration from the pandemic, but did Songbird really need to feature COVID itself? That high-concept description could work in a totally fictional world where a virus has affected the world's population.

Perhaps there will be something in Songbird that justifies its setting and it's certainly attracted an impressive cast with Apa and Carson joined by the likes of Demi Moore, Bradley Whitford, Craig Robinson, and Alexandra Daddario.

Maybe there's something smarter going on and far be it from us to completely rule out a movie on the basis of a dodgy premise.

"Even though this is the pandemic thriller and it's suspenseful and terrifying, the heart of a story is hope," Carson told EW. "It's the hope that is represented in Sara's character and the love between Sara and Nico. In our never-ending dark night, the songbird sings a song of hope."

Photo credit: Courtesy of STXfilms
Photo credit: Courtesy of STXfilms

We hope that Carson is right and the overriding feeling from Songbird will be one of hope, rather than a feeling that it's just a cheap attempt to cash in on a situation that has affected everybody worldwide.

It's just that right now, it's looking like Songbird is going to be one of 2020's most controversial movies, creating all the wrong kinds of buzz.

Songbird doesn't yet have a release date.

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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