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Movie review: The ‘Hunger Games’ prequel could revive the dystopian genre

Illustration by Akhila Nadimpalli

I am not ashamed to admit I spent countless hours trying to perfect Katniss Everdeen’s iconic braid in middle school.

The key word in that sentence is “trying.”

The “Hunger Games” trilogy was one of the first series I fell in love with. I remember binge-reading the books so I could have read them in time for the release of the first movie.

This is exactly why when I heard about the release of a new movie in the series, I immediately added the release date to my calendar.

Directed by Francis Lawerence, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” may have revived the dystopian genre we all have missed.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” follows a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he and fellow Capitol students are assigned as the first mentors for tributes in the 10th annual Hunger Games.

As Snow battles to prove himself with this task and bring his family name back to the top, he is assigned to mentor the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler).

Baird is a musician in District 12 with a group called The Covey. Her only wishes are to survive and do so without becoming a murderer.

However, from the moment Snow and Baird are introduced to each other, the audience sees the struggles of balancing love and power.

Since this film is set 64 years before Katniss Everdeen’s games, viewers get to witness the journey of creating the Hunger Games. The early games are somehow even more gruesome than the later ones we witnessed so many years ago.

Volumina Gaul (Viola Davis), the first head gamemaker, and Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the games themselves, treat district children as zoo animals.

This contrast to the “celebrity” treatment tributes are given in later Hunger Games only adds to the chaos of the first games and gives young Snow his first chance at controlling the people of Panem.

What sets “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” apart from other dystopian films and novels we all grew to love in the early 2010s is the lack of a clear “hero.”

We all know that President Snow is an evil man with no redeeming qualities, but young Coriolanus is tip-toeing on the line of good and evil.

There are moments in which he seems to genuinely struggle with the ethics of the Capitol. However, these are balanced by moments in which we see his true power-hungry and manipulative nature emerge.

The “love story” — if you can even call it that — is another interesting concept.

Those who watched the original trilogy already know the fate of future President Snow, yet “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” still keeps you guessing at how young Snow and Baird will fare against early Panem.

One detail that I loved in the book and the film is the Appalachian influence we see in Baird and the rest of District 12.

District 12 is obviously centered around the southern Appalachia region, and it always bothered me that this wasn’t entirely showcased in the original trilogy.

The mountains and the coal mining gave enough for you to infer where the district was, but Katniss Everdeen and others in the area don’t have Appiclachian accents or culture.

Suzanne Collins did an unbelievable job adding the elements into the prequel novel, however. And Zegler channeled the Appalachian accent and folk music in her performances as Baird.

While some online think Zegler’s singing and accent were a little much, I loved it. The scenes with Baird and The Covey made me feel like I was home, something the original trilogy could not do.

Despite the film’s 61% score with critics and Rotten Tomatoes, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” still received a 91% score from audiences.

All in all, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has quickly become one of my favorite films in the franchise and definitely my favorite book in the series.

I highly encourage that anyone considering watching the movie do it now, and I also insist that you give the book a chance. Even if you read the book after the movie, it will give you key details that will make you appreciate the story of the film so much more.

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