Small sets, small crews and small screens – these are all things that define pandemic-era filmmaking. With movie theaters shut down and rigid restrictions on how many people can be in one area at a certain time, artists have started to create movies that reflect the challenges and fears of the situation we find ourselves in. This new trend seems to be popular among filmmakers, but the mixed reactions of audiences to these films show that maybe this genre isn’t as well-liked as it seems. This points toward one question: Do we need films about lockdown, or do we need escapism?
What is this new genre?
Quarantine films, filmed-in-quarantine movies, lockdown movies, covid movies, whatever you want to call it proves to be a filmmaking trend that’s gaining traction. “Quarantine movies—be they films about the COVID-19 pandemic or ones shot and released during lockdown—have inevitably sprung up from an industry looking to wrestle with, and capitalize on, the collective experience that’s shaped our lives over the past year,” writes Miles Surrey for The Ringer. It’s not uncommon knowledge that art is used as a way to cope with current issues, especially ones that have such a widespread impact. Because of this, it’s not unexpected that film is a way that people are coping with these anxieties, challenges and depressing realities.
Movies of this genre started popping up roughly in the summer of 2020, a few months into quarantine. Following the Netflix limited-series Homemade released on June 30, 2020, numerous other titles in the genre have been created. IN addition to this, there have also been a number of special pandemic-era episodes of popular TV shows, like Parks and Recreation, that have been created to deal with this concept. Some of these titles include Malcom and Marie, Songbird, Host. Not all of these titles directly address the situation, but they’re all obviously reflective of it.
The answer is unclear
Homemade, the first of this pandemic-era filmmaking trend, is praised for its authenticity, intelligence and beauty. Earning a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, this film is the first of its kind and people generally seem to enjoy the catharsis it brought through an artistic look of pandemic-era life. Malcolm and Marie, also a quarantine film, received mixed reviews from critics. This film earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of 59%, and the general sentiment of the film is that it had its good moments, some praising the authenticity of the relationship struggles and the acting, but notice that it isn’t without its flaws. These mixed criticisms could have to do with the writing of the characters, but also the fact that the film depicts pandemic-era arguments that have become all too familiar for some of us. Other films in this genre also show mixed reviews, which may correlate to the general sentiment of people as they attempt to cope with the situation. Some people choose to engage with art that addresses this in order to find a catharsis, while others desperately want escapism.
At the beginning of quarantine, there was a flurry of articles about what to watch or read in order to escape from reality, showing a larger societal need for a way to step away from reality for a moment. Some opinion pieces have been published stating that people don’t want escapism, they want to understand. This thought seems to be what’s driving the quarantine-movie genre, there’s a sentiment of backlash because these films are coming out as we’re still in lockdown, so a reflection of it feels like a reminder of their misery to many. Quarantine films may certainly take off in the future, after lockdown, as many other films about issues such as these have. But for now, as they’re coming out during the pandemic, it may be just a little too relevant for audiences to appreciate the films as they are.
Elli Williams is a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara pursuing a B.A. in Film and Media studies as well as a Professional Writing Minor with an emphasis in Journalism. She is passionate about discussing the latest movies and TV shows. When not binging the latest release, she’s taking pictures, drawing, and planning her next adventure.