I remember the first time I saw “Resident Evil.” Based off of the Japanese video game franchise by Capcom, the movie is about how the human race fights off an outbreak of zombies and other monsters created by a pharmaceutical company named the Umbrella Corporation. Starring Milla Jovovich, it starts with the release of a virus in a lab that soon spreads throughout the entire city. The lone survivors, Alice and a special SWAT team, have to try to protect themselves and stop it from spreading further, all the while uncovering secrets about the corporation that started this pandemic in the first place.
I remember watching it for the first time, thinking it was so cool to imagine a zombie apocalypse. Would I be able to survive one? Could I ever be cool enough to kill off a bunch of zombies if I had the chance? I sure hoped so. But now as the world battles COVID-19 in an uncomfortably similar fashion, I’m not so sure if I can look at post-apocalyptic movies the same way anymore.
Is this a good time for post-apocalyptic movies?
In late October, Paramount Pictures released a trailer for their new movie “Songbird,” set to release in 2021. Starring KJ Appa and Sophia Carson, I was curious because I’m familiar with the actors from “Riverdale” and “Disney Descendants,” but I hadn’t heard about this new project or what it was about. However, after watching the trailer I was left with mixed feelings.
“Songbird” is about a courier (Appa) who’s immune to what becomes known as the COVID-23 virus, an evolved version of COVID-19, who races against time to save the woman he loves from a quarantine camp. The death toll has hit over 100 million and all those infected are taken by force to these camps where, I’m sure, no good things happen. Overall, this movie is not for the lighthearted and as much as it’s on-trend for post-apocalyptic films to be slightly morbid and very suspenseful, the tension I felt while watching the trailer wasn’t entirely positive — especially when it depicted what was clearly a near future that too-closely mimicked the reality of our current pandemic.
Even though the movie was filmed during COVID-19 and that itself is a concern, it isn’t the main problem, especially when so many other shows and films, including “Euphoria,” “After” and “Batman” have done the same. However, as Digital Spy points out, “with that synopsis, and the fact that the movie wasn’t just filmed, but conceived, after the pandemic started this year, it’s easy to see why people aren’t enthusiastic about it.”
And honestly, why should they be? COVID-19 has led to a quarter of a million deaths and been contracted by 11.6 million people in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, those numbers are steadily increasing. As of Nov. 19, all public schools are closing in New York and Kentucky because of the rise in COVID-19 cases and even those not infected constantly live in a state of paranoia — for their lives as well as the future, especially as many people continue to reject the use of masks.
This is not to say that I think that post-apocalyptic movies should no longer be made or that I will stop watching them. But when the film’s creators say, “The show must go on,” and that “‘Songbird’ is a thrilling movie that will speak to audiences in this moment as it keeps them on the edge of their seats,” I think it’s fair to say that people have enough “thrill” in their lives to last them for at least a decade.
Besides, when so many post-apocalyptic films already exist, such as “World War Z,” “I Am Legend” and the “Zombieland” franchise, we don’t need a movie that functions as a near-biopic of our lives. Especially when the consequences of the pandemic haven’t even begun to die down yet, and are in fact, getting worse. This comment and the movie itself reflects a privileged and capitalist standpoint that can’t figure out that this situation is an apocalypse for some, if not most people — one with no happy ending.
Is it just a marketing stunt?
I don’t appreciate the way Americans’ real-time post-apocalyptic traumas are being fictionalized as if it’s something people can easily overcome when so many are clearly struggling to survive it now. However, if their plan was to make money or garner attention, they definitely did their part marketing-wise because people are talking about it. Only time will tell how well it will actually do once released, but I’m skeptical.
Instagram account TheShadeRoom put up the advertisement for the film (that seems to have since been removed) and asked what their audience thought of the film. One commenter simply said, “That sh** is traumatic. Why would I go see that?” with many other comments following suit. It seems that not only are people not excited for this, but they’re offended.
Perhaps this response is one of many that indicates the creators should have waited a little longer to put out the trailer for the film. On the flip side, people are always going to be upset about responses to tragic national events because everyone always has an opinion. Actress Sofia Carson responded to the possible backlash of the movie by telling Entertainment, “The heart of the story is hope.” Filmmaker Adam Mason then followed up the comment by saying “[It’s] a romantic movie about two people who want to be together, but they can’t.” I understand the need to portray hopeful stories, especially now, and I love a good Romeo and Juliet story myself, but frankly, I think any of these messages could have been expressed in a different type of movie.
Maybe this movie will provide a sense of comfort for some by offering a more fictionalized version of their reality on-screen. It can allow audiences to feel like they’re not so alone, giving them the chance to relate to someone else who doesn’t have to literally go through the impact of the pandemic in their day-to-day life. A movie also can provide a sense of closure that our real life will never contain and I respect that.
Not to mention, “Songbird” isn’t the only media product that has tried to capitalize off of this pivotal moment in history. There are a few books out as well that have released COVID-19 related content. “Kissing the Coronavirus” went viral after author M.J. Edwards said that “[This is her] debut book, and is her attempt at trying to pay the bills following her job loss.” This is understandable as a regular person suffering from job loss during this tough time but still — this is severely poor timing. Some people were amused but others were not, and whether it was due to the subject matter of the book or not, it currently rates two-and-a-half stars on Goodreads.
If “Songbird” is another way to make fast money then I’m not sure if a positive reaction is exactly what they’re looking for. They knew the implications of making such a controversial movie so close to our current post-apocalyptic reality, so it’s up to the viewers to decide if it’s truly a movie worth watching for the reasons the filmmakers intended.
Like I said, this does not mean future post-apocalyptic movies cannot and should not be made, even if that near future is 2021 or 2022, but “Songbird” is just hitting a little bit too close to home. Maybe they could have put in some zombies to give it a more fantastical element, or maybe made it into a satirical comedy. But when the world is still so uncertain and feeling hopeless I think we need more lighthearted content — or at least, non-COVID-19 related content — to keep us entertained in our homes. Especially when so many of us are still trapped in a real-life horror-thriller with no idea when it will end.