It was bound to happen eventually, but the world’s first Corona-based feature is already here – written, shot and ready to be distributed. Those eager beavers have even cut a trailer.
The adventurously-titled Corona is the brainchild of Canadian writer-director Mostafa Keshvari. His film takes place in the steely confines of an elevator, where a microcosm of society is trapped and start to lose it when a Chinese woman, who has recently moved into the building, starts to cough.
First things first: congratulations to the fast-working and entrepreneurial Keshvari, who managed to make all of this happen before March 8, when the trailer was released online. And doing a single-shot, 63-minute feature is a canny decision to save some time and hopefully ramp up some tension.
It’s also worth saying that I’ve got nothing against uncomfortably topical films or artists using headline-ripped stories to address underlying issues and timely concerns. Au contraire – consolation can come from confrontation, and immersion therapy is a thing. And a bloody useful one at that. It’s one of the many reasons why we watch horror films. As late filmmaker Jonathan Demme (director of The Silence Of The Lambs) so eloquently put it: “People love to be terrified in the safety of a work of fiction.” Indeed, we need outlets for our fears: horror movies and films dealing with topical issues can provide essential catharsis and leave viewers feeling both enriched and cleansed.
That said, there’s fuckery afoot and plenty wrong with Corona.
For starters, the trailer.
From what we can deduce, the film isn’t about the worldwide spread of the virus but rather a wannabe-allegorical chamber piece about how panic and xenophobia spread like a deadly virus. How do we know this? Quite aside from the clue given to us by the film’s tagline (“Fear Is A Virus” – which is suspiciously similar to Steven Soderbergh’s pandemic thriller Contagion’s tagline “Nothing Spreads Like Fear”), Keshvari has handily included a wheelchair-bound character who seems xenopho– oh wait, he’s actually got a full-blown swastika on his head. Well thank the stars, because his racism would’ve been really hard to fathom from the script alone and without the overt fascistic signposting. The whole point of the film could’ve been completely lost on me! Cheers, maestro.
Again, kudos for the quick turnover and never judge a film by its trailer and all, but all of this already looks and sounds toe-curlingly awful. The audience-belittling tell-don’t-show approach, the fecklessly-written caricatures that each clearly have the emotional definition of a Lego brick, the huis-clos elevator schtick that’ll doubtlessly elevate 2010’s M. Night Shyamalan-produced horror flick Devil to the ranks of Citizen Kane… And if you fancy some mediocre croutons on your shit salad, please observe the typeface, which looks all wrong – and somewhat bafflingly reminiscent of Woody Allen’s beloved Windsor Light font.
For main, there’s the director. Mostafa Keshvari’s IMDb page informs us that he’s a former banker who received a scholarship at Vancouver Film School.
He’s also a published poet, a fashion designer and a surrealist painter.
Carry on, my wayward son.
His personal quotes section includes: “Your life is a movie, direct it before someone else will. (…) Learn as if life is a feature length but love as if it’s a short. Point the camera where the light is and pull focus on your dreams.”
A deeper dive leads you to his website. There, on the same page, you’ll find him obnoxiously quoting his faux-profound musings (“The real art is life itself, the rest a perfect illusion at best!”) alongside those of 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi.
I’ll let that settle in. And if you haven’t immediately caught eyes’ diabetes, all you need to do is cast your peepers on his oily-slick banner pic and that’ll guarantee some sort of retinal chlamydia, no doubt about it.
For desert – and more seriously – Corona asks that all-important question: How soon is too soon? It already feels like we’re in an extended episode of Black Mirror at this point, but is Corona what we need right now?
It’s a conversation that regularly arises whenever films thematically reference sensitive topics or directly deal with national tragedies. Was Gus Van Sant’s Elephant a poetic, challenging and necessary exploration of the Columbine school shootings or just plain insensitive? Were Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone exploiting the horrors 9/11 with their respective films United 93 and World Trade Centre? Did there need to be dramatizations of the Utøya massacre, with Erik Poppe’s U-July 22 and Greengrass’ 22 July?
Real-life tragedy has always been a source of inspiration; in some cases, the art born from that inspiration helps us gain further understanding of what can initially seem incomprehensible, deal with trauma, and collectively heal. Stories need to be told, no matter how uncomfortably relevant or painful, and it’s natural that the Corona pandemic will inspire artists from all fields to do great – and some not so great – work. However, timing is a key factor.
We all know we’re due a deluge of self-isolation thrillers and full-blown pandemic blockbusters once all this blows over. As you read, there are bean-counting studio execs feverishly prepping their future release slate and you can bet it features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a retired-but-still-badass-to-the-core virologist who will leave his ‘sexy lamp‘ (naturally played by someone 20 years his junior) to travel to the depths of the Amazonian jungle in order to locate the rare plant that holds the key to a vaccine, thereby singlehandedly solving the Covid-19 crisis, can I get a FUCK YEAH??!!!
Incidentally, have you noticed that from both Jumanjis to Jungle Cruise via Hobbs & Shaw, The Rock seems to contractually need him some jungle these days?
But I digress. The point is that even if these deeply cynical and tragedy-exploiting antics are bound to feature in industry machinations and weigh on the cultural psyche, I’m not getting these Corona-themed movies (or their trailers) right now. All the films previously mentioned weren’t released or marketed during the times of crisis they depicted. A window of time was respected. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how releasing a shitty trailer right now might feel a bit distasteful, regardless of its artistic merits. We’re right in the middle of it, and you don’t flirt with the widow at the funeral.
The film may deal with how we need to demonstrate solidarity and not racially or politically charge the crisis – a vital message that shows its heart is most probably in the right place. But as for those out-of-touch celebs making a video, cringeyly telling us we’re all in it together instead of donating a million or two to hospitals, a heaping dose of perception, self-awareness and elementary tact needs to be prescribed.
For all my bellyaching, I have nothing but true admiration for anyone who is involved in any aspect of filmmaking – no matter what the end result looks like, and even if they do earnestly quote Rumi like some preening, striving-to-be-profound Arschgeige. But it’s always worth picking your moment. Timing is everything. Even with the best of intentions, it’s the difference between being thought-provokingly topical and opportunistically tone-deaf.