REVIEW: ‘Locked Down’ is a misfire of a cheap pandemic film



Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in a Covid-19 set heist movie.

It was always inevitable once this pandemic started that Hollywood was going to try to find some way to spin it into something kitschy from which it could make a profit. It only took weeks after the United States shut everything down in March for an announcement to be made that a thriller based on the Covid-19 pandemic was being filmed under Michael Bay’s Platinum Dune production label. 

Now, courtesy of Steven Knight and Doug Liman, we have our second official Covid-19 film, “Locked Down.” The heist rom-com, which released on HBO Max on Jan. 14, stars Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a disgruntled married couple — she’s a CEO, he’s an ex-con delivery driver — stuck in their townhome as the UK enters lockdown. As they yearn to regain the places they once were, they plan to steal a 3 million euro diamond.

On paper, this doesn’t seem terribly offensive bar making our main protagonist a CEO who, in Act One, fires a bunch of people. But in execution, “Locked Down” feels like an actual chore to work through. Its characters are never likable nor relatable, every scene is filled with vapid long-winded pretentious pontifications and not one moment of this movie has any forward moving potential — not even its “climactic heist.” 

I used to think the idea of a film being all filer was impossible but “Locked Down” proved me wrong; it’s all ill-conceived filer that feels rushed through to capitalize on our current state — which makes sense, considering Knight wrote this six months ago on a dare and it was filmed only three months ago.

“Songbird” and “Locked Down” are not going to be the only films we get that exploit this pandemic so it’s worth asking the question: What are the ethics of making a film that takes place during a crisis we’re still dealing with, that has claimed almost 100 million lives worldwide? 

The reception to “Locked Down” has been mixed at best. Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly graded the film a “B,” and the review is mostly complimentary to Hathaway and Ejiofor’s performance. But Greenblatt also gives attention to the relatability factor in the closing statements of her review

.It’s still gratifying to see people on screen going through the same peculiar mix of madness, mood swings, and claustrophobia we’ve come to know so well over the last 10 months, give or take,” Greenblatt wrote in her review.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Richard Lawson’s review for Vanity Fair. He has almost nothing positive to say about the film, dubbing it “a pompous sort of fury.”

“There is no empathy for the common cause of quarantine in the film, only spittle and outrage and corny existential angst,” Lawson wrote.

There’s a divide between definitions of what is an acceptable portrayal of something that is still a very harsh and raw reality for the entire world to be going through. It seems also that that has a lot to do with the specific type of entertainment it is that portrays the pandemic.

“There is a place for narratives to explore or examine this point and period of time, but it comes down to context,” said Andrew Jacobson, a directing major in the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul. “If it’s only for the intents of extracting a surface level gag or emotional beat, then we are threatening to minimize the severity of this tragic and traumatic period of human history.”

At its core, the problem with these two films that have come out is that they feel like “easy entertainment,” a phrase dubbed by comedian/internet personality Demi Adejuyigbe on his Letterboxd review for this film.

The goal isn’t to make something good or truly entertaining but to make something whose production is the entire headline… It’s not a movie they’re making, it’s a viral video,” Adejuyigbe wrote. “Their goal isn’t a lasting impression, it’s two good days of discourse and a sharp uptick in streaming service attention.”

And that is where the toxicity of these films lay. They’re purely reactionary and seem to exist as a means to exploit and capitalize on tragedy. We’ll never know the full picture of this pandemic until we reach the other side of it, and that’s where these films serve to age horrifically.

As 2021 commences, I’m sure more Covid-19-influenced films will release, and all we can hope is that these films approach this with a sense of compassion, empathy and consideration for the severity of where we are and not treat it as something easy.