The COVID Horror Thriller 'Songbird' Is More Cheesy Than Scary

The dystopian pandemic movie, produced by Michael Bay, will make you say, "Too soon."


“Remember the good old days of fake news? Real news is worse.” Those words are spoken early on in Songbird, the Michael Bay-produced COVID-sploitation thriller and the “first film to shoot in L.A.” since the beginning of the pandemic. The line arrives during the requisite doom-soaked montage of dystopian imagery, blurry news footage, and fired-up social media testimonials that often kick off tales of societal collapse. Your enjoyment of Songbird likely depends on the type of audible reaction the “fake news” line elicits: Do you unleash a yelp of laughter or a groan of exhaustion? It’s the slim, incalculable difference between a “lmao” and a “smh.” 

If this type of nakedly cynical filmmaking automatically repulses you-and judging from the number of “too soon” reactions I’ve seen to the idea of the movie’s apocalyptic premise, that’s a fairly widespread response-Songbird will be a grueling hang, even with a brisk 84-minute runtime. Again, this is a Michael Bay-produced movie about a global pandemic that’s already claimed the lives of over 1.5 million people and continues to worsen as winter grinds on. This is the filmmaker who sent a drill-team to blow up a 600-mile wide asteroid in Armageddon and put giant balls on a robot in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. As a producer, he’s mostly specialized in grisly horror remakes. Poor taste comes with the territory.Surprisingly, Songbird could use a bit more of Bay’s obnoxious sensibility. Like many of the films produced under his Platinum Dunes banner, the movie has a sleek, car commercial look filled with splashes of white light; there’s also a conspiratorial bent to the script, which was co-written by Simon Boyes and director Adam Mason. In Songbird’s bleak version of 2024, the planet has moved beyond COVID-19 to COVID-23, which has claimed over 8 million lives. The city of Los Angeles remains in full lockdown mode, enforced by gun-wielding bureaucrats from the Department of Sanitation, and only select immune individuals, referred to as “munies” and outfitted with yellow digital ID wristbands, are allowed to move freely through the empty streets.

The movie’s protagonist, Nico (Riverdale‘s KJ Apa), is one of the “munies” who was paying his way through law school as a motorcycle-loving courier when the pandemic upended his life. Now working for a semi-shady delivery company owned by Lester (The Office‘s Craig Robinson) and logs hours on his phone chatting with his non-immune girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson). Some of Nico’s most consistent customers are the wealthy Griffins, a couple played by Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford (doing yet another effective variation on his Get Out character). The Griffins are running a scam, selling phony immunity bracelets, to supplement their posh lifestyle, and Whitford’s William is also carrying out an affair with May (Alexandra Daddario), a popular singer online who strikes up a friendly correspondence with one of her fans, a disabled veteran played by Richard Jewell‘s Paul Walter Hauser.


That’s an impressive cast for such a slight movie, right? The relative sprawl of Songbird perhaps shares some tiny bit of DNA with Los Angeles ensemble films like Short Cuts, Magnolia, and Crash. The key difference here is that most of the characters, all reeling from the stress and alienation of the situation, can never rarely share the screen with each other because of the lockdown protocols. (Peter Stormare, a Bay favorite from movies like Armageddon and Bad Boys II, connects the dots as the cartoon-ishly evil villain who threatens to drag people to the dreaded “Q-Zone.”) While the narrative has a wide scope, it lacks scale, and the film struggles to generate suspense after it’s finished establishing all the characters and their various levels of interconnectivity.

Honestly, Songbird could stand to be more paranoid-or at least angrier. Though the plot with Moore and Whitford gestures towards the idea of inequality, and the movie pays expected lip service to essential workers, the ending is toothless, falling back on all the same “we’re all in this together” bromides that have defined most COVID pop culture and commercials. I didn’t necessarily expect Mason to channel John Carpenter, but the movie doesn’t even approach the pissed-off populism of The Purge series. By the time Nico starts delivering corny voice-over lines like, “We weren’t just delivering packages, we were delivering hope,” you might start to think you’re watching Amazon spon-con. If you’re going to make a trashy COVID horror movie, at least go for the jugular.Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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