Throughout the past 2 years, the COVID Pandemic has greatly affected all of us. It became the catalyst for major changes in various industries, and
Throughout the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the lives of billions. It became the catalyst for major changes in various industries, and the film industry was no exception. Movie productions had to be halted or postponed, release dates were shuffled around, movie theaters had to close or take immense precautions, and studios had to adapt by embracing the power of online streaming services.
All of this chaos also birthed a new genre of film: COVID Cinema. It’s a whole subsection of films that put the pandemic as the basis of its story, or at the very least, acknowledge its existence. These films are the result of filmmakers needing to express themselves during these times using whatever resources they have at their disposal, and since it was nearly impossible to go out and shoot a movie the traditional way, these films tell a more personal story than the conventional studio picture.
The Horror Films of COVID Cinema
One of the first films to be released about the pandemic is a small British independent horror movie by director Rob Savage called Host. Dealing with themes of self-isolation and social anxiety, the film perfectly captured the essence of what it felt like during the early stages of the pandemic. Host cleverly uses the video chat gimmick to its advantage, mimicking the contemporary situation where everyone has had to resort to having Zoom meetings for several months. The film has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it is one of the masterpieces of COVID Cinema.
With the critical and financial success of the film, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood wanted in on this and on December 2020, we got the Michael Bay-produced train wreck of a film, Songbird. Directed by Adam Mason, who was mostly known for directing music videos and a few low budget horrors, Songbird was a movie that exploited the horrific nature of the pandemic in exchange for cheap scares in order to make a quick buck. The film was panned by critics, earning only 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and is one of the worst films to come out of COVID Cinema (which is saying something, considering movies like Corona Zombies have been made). There’s no better evidence for this than this list of Twitter takedowns for the film.
Thankfully, it didn’t stay that way and the genre quickly bounced back with the Ben Wheatley film, In the Earth. After premiering at Sundance in January 2021, the film was released in the United States in April that year to positive reviews. What’s most impressive about this flick is that it was written and directed by Wheatley over the course of 15 days, and you’d have no way of knowing that by the sheer brilliant production quality of it. In the Earth does certainly deliver a series of good scares that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats throughout its runtime.
The Romantic Films of COVID Cinema
Besides the dark and the grim, a vast amount of COVID Cinema is, in fact, charmingly light hearted rom-coms and romantic dramas. These films mostly follow a similar premise, whereby a couple that’s in a failing relationship are forced to live together through the lockdown. We see these types of claustrophobic couples in Locked Down (starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor), The End of Us (starring Ben Coleman and Ali Vingiano), 7 Days (starring Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan), and Together (starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan). While this trope can feel rather repetitive, each of these films bring something unique to the table by either having a bombastic third act, impeccable dialogue, spectacular performances, or just that realistic and grounded mumble-core flavor.
Love in the Times of COVID
For those wanting something with a little more flare but still within the familiarly romantic territory, Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie might just be the film. While not being about the pandemic in its narrative, the film was the first Hollywood feature to be written, financed, and produced during that time. Although receiving mixed reviews from critics, lead actors Zendaya and John David Washington were praised for their chemistry and performance with the former earning a Best Actress nomination at the 26th Critics’ Choice Awards.
However, dig a little deeper into the romance films of COVID Cinema, and you’ll find a terrific rom-com about the Platonic relationship between a Spanish teacher and her student. Directed by the actor Natalie Morales, Language Lessons is pretty similar in execution to Host, being that it’s told entirely through video chats. However, instead of having a group of people, this film only has two lead characters (Morales and the delightful actor-director Mark Duplass). It’s a fresh and inventive way to tell this lovely tale of blooming friendship affection, and one that is definitely not to be missed by anyone looking for something entirely different from usual romance films (including the aforementioned COVID ones).
COVID Cinema has been set in motion, and it’s most likely only going to keep growing from here. It’s bound to become the next film trope in Hollywood if these films haven’t proven it already. It’ll be interesting to see the next phase of the genre if it continues to evolve with fresh and original ideas, so long as they don’t solely rely on showing us the pandemic over and over again. There are only so many ‘couples in quarantine’ and ‘Zoom room’ films one can take, but with interesting new directors using this global trauma in exciting ways, hopefully the future of COVID is only on screen.
Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham starrer Help, set in a Liverpool care home during the COVID-19 pandemic, is coming to Acorn TV.
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