A simple google search of the word ‘escapism’ will quickly reveal the following encylopaedic definition:
“Escapism is mental diversion from unpleasant or boring aspects of daily life, typically through activities involving imagination or entertainment. Escapism may be used to occupy one’s self away from persistent feelings of depression or general sadness” (Wikipedia)
Google dictionary offers a similar take:
“Escapism – the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”
At this point I hope you realize where my train of thought is headed, as the point of this text was supposed to be a review of the Michael Bay-produced and directed by Adam Mason (aka some random jobber) Songbird, a pandemic thriller that literally nobody asked for. In all honesty, I am not quite sure why I watched it other than because it was available on Amazon Prime and I was having a bit of a Sunday lie-in so I decided to give it a bash out of sheer curiosity. But curiosity, as we all know, killed a cat.
It’s been a few days and I am still speechless at what I witnessed because it’s not very often that I get to watch something as tone-deaf, ineffective and downright inappropriate. I really don’t think the filmmakers who concocted this story – and for those who do not know, the film takes place in the near future when COVID19 has mutated into a much deadlier COVID23 and the world has turned into a grim lockdown dystopia with military on the streets and sick people forcibly removed to concentration camps – understood that what they were trying to pass off as escapism stood in stark opposition to the very definition of the word. And just for the record, I equally do not believe they were attempting to craft a piece of cerebral speculative fiction aimed at underscoring the potential grave danger we find ourselves in, as the hyper-stylized tone and a simplistic narrative template clearly inspired by Michael Bay’s own directorial efforts do not support that claim. Make no mistake, this is not the next Contagion. This is at best a poor man’s Outbreak filmed and released at a worst possible time in history. In fact, I would go as far as to call it a cinematic equivalent of that time when celebrities got together and sang “Imagine” while stuck in their lavish mansions in a bid to seek attention from the quarantined world.
I wonder how is Songbird going to offer anyone an opportunity to “seek distraction from unpleasant realities” or “occupy their selves away from persistent feelings of depression and general sadness” when it is perfectly geared to exacerbate those very feelings!? How is anyone supposed to be whisked away from the overwhelming sense of hopelessness surrounding the never-ending and recurrent lockdowns, draconian restrictions on freedoms, economic uncertainty, job losses and the fact their loved ones and friends may very well lose their lives as a result of this ongoing (and ever accelerating) pandemic? How is this even possible when the film in question pours oil onto the flame of those fears and attempts to have fun at their expense?
I’ll tell you how this is possible: it is because the people who made this – Michael Bay, Adam Mason, Simon Boyes, Marcei A. Brown, Jason Clark, Jeanette Volturno, Adam Goodman, Andrew Sugerman, Eben Davidson and more – are privileged enough to think it’s OK. They don’t have to worry about making ends meet or about their family members dying to COVID because they can afford to lock themselves behind fortified walls and pay through this with their large fortunes. They are completely unaware of the fact that their movie not only isn’t helping, but it is preying upon the same people it is designed to entertain. They don’t seem to grasp the simple reality that – contrary to what they may think – we are not all in the same boat. We are merely in the same storm and making a movie as insensitive and tone-deaf as Songbird at a time of a global health catastrophe would be like insisting on showing Jojo Rabbit to people in Nazi-occupied Poland or France in 1943. It’s just inappropriate, insensitive and morally wrong.
However, I am also perfectly aware of the fact that some people are able to look past what I personally cannot and maybe they would be willing and able to extract some visceral entertainment out of a Bay-esque shaky-camfest set in the speculative world of post-COVID dystopia. To those of you who fall in this category I can only say that it’s not worth it. And that’s simply because Songbird – its moral problems notwithstanding – is just a bad movie to boot. It’s poorly conceived, written on a napkin and shot with a flair of a teenager who’s unable to see past Michael Bay’s technical toolbox to draw inspiration from filmmakers like Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, whose work Bay has been shamelessly bastardizing throughout his entire career. It’s not worth anyone’s time and money to sit through ninety minutes of poorly executed action shot like a 90s music video and engineered by people who do not have a dime of originality to split between them, let alone a moral spine.
I understand that Songbird is but the first of many pandemic thrillers to be inspired by the current situation. After all, cinema imitates life and that’s just what’s going to happen. Artists are also going to reckon with this predicament in their own ways. And even the world of pure blockbuster entertainment is surely going to embrace it, so I guess we should brace ourselves for the inevitable. But can we at least agree that now is not the time to do that? And if you are going to make escapist (sic!) thrillers about the world of COVID, my dear filmmakers, for crying out loud make sure these movies are not pieces of shit like this one!