Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Can disaster films survive a pandemic?

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This spring when it looked like pandemic movies might lose their appeal – too close to home, you know? Contagion and Epidemic increased streaming graphics.

This appetite could explain the rationale Songbird, a riff produced by Michael Bay on the Coronavirus pandemic, coming out this month on video on demand. While most big budget popcorn movies have been pushed back until next year, Songbird was created specifically to happen right now. It was the first film to shoot in Los Angeles after locks were eased this spring.

The fast production is evident in the final product, which has shoddy fast food quality, as director Adam Mason frantically tried to feed a fleeting urge before it passed. Unfortunately, he forgot to make a good movie. You can’t just serve poop in between buns and call it a burger. Or rather, you can try, but people will notice it.

Disaster films, like horror films, reflect the anxieties of their time, although they rarely do so as transparently as Songbird. Usually people look for disaster movies because they want the vicarious thrill of watching destruction from the safety of a theater. Along with Mason’s movie, they watch a movie about the pandemic as they are quarantined at home, zero steps from the tragedy.

“We’re going to disaster film to tackle real threats in a less horrific way than reading the news,” says Thomas Doherty, cultural historian and professor of American studies at Brandeis University. In the 1950s, many of these films used alien invasions or radioactive creatures to explore fears of the Cold War. In the 70s, big blockbusters like Imposing hell and The Poseidon adventure grappling with the threat of failing technologies. “Usually disaster movies are just a beat to the left or right of what’s really going on,” Doherty says.

do not Songbird, which contains no allegorical layer. The film is set in 2024, during the 214th week of a hardcore lockdown; Covid-19 has continued to mutate and its latest strain, Covid-23, kills most people who contract it. It follows poor immune courier Nico (KJ Apa and his abs) and a rich squirrel couple (Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore) as they navigate a world ravaged by the virus and a logistically confused and draconian government-mandated lockdown. . Everyone except the immune, aka “munies” (who make up a fraction of a percentage of the population), are perpetually stuck in their homes, which are fitted with special disinfection technology to receive packages and supplies. , regardless of their income level. (How they pay rent or groceries is never explained.) If they break the rules or even have a slight fever, they are captured by armed guards and trucked to squalid death camps called “Q. zones”. These are overseen by an all-powerful sanitation department, which has gained a despotic hold over the nation and is run by a twisted, anonymous bureaucrat who kills for sport no matter how. Nico asks his wealthy clients to help him get his girlfriend a fake black market immunity bracelet so she can defy the lockdown and escape with him. Yes, it’s true. The villain in this movie is an evil government employee who enforces public health laws, and the good guy bravely tries to get around those laws to see his new girlfriend. One wonders if the outline of the plot could have been drawn from the bulletin boards on the right.

Now, Songbird could be forgiven his red state bait opportunism if that was fun. After all, disaster movies don’t need to have good politics or an uplifting vision of humanity to work. There are different definitions of a disaster movie, but one that is not negotiable to qualify for the genre is a commitment to the spectacle of destruction. (This is why a 9/11 movie like Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is a disaster movie, but Paul Greengrass’ Uni 93 isn’t.) A moderately engaging, suspenseful story helps, but ultimately a disaster movie needs to deliver the boost.

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