Film - Pandemic

Ren Zelen dons a very fetching hazmat suit to review Pandemic, out now on DVD...

Director: John Suits
Writer: Dustin T. Benson
Stars: Rachel Nichols, Alfie Allen, Missi Pyle, Mekhi Phifer, Paul Guilfoyle

‘Pandemic’ written by Dustin T. Benson and directed by John Suits, is set in a near-future world where a highly-contagious virus has infected most of humanity and turned them into - yes, you’ve guessed it - mindless, violent zombies. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming from a mile off, did you?)

Lauren Chase (Rachel Nichols) is a doctor, who, after the fall of New York, comes to Los Angeles to lead a team to retrieve and rescue the few uninfected survivors. Presiding physician (Paul Guilfoyle) assigns her to an armoured school-bus with navigator Denise (Missi Pyle), driver Wheeler (Alfie Allen) and Gunner (Mekhi Phifer) who provides security. Unbeknownst to all, Chase has an agenda of her own – she has come with the intention of tracking down her husband and daughter.

As her team venture deep into the infected zone of Los Angeles and suffer repeat attacks and casualties, the plan begins to fall apart and the group breaks away from their orders in an attempt to survive and to pursue their own course.

With such a derivative storyline, the gimmick ‘Pandemic’ is touting is that it is shot almost entirely from a first-person perspective. This is achieved by purportedly shooting through cameras mounted atop hazmat masks. Using this method, the film soon begins to stray into ‘found footage’ territory. In practice, the perspective often breaks away from the main protagonist and shifts between its four main survivors or to random CCTV footage or dashboard cams when the chosen vantage point doesn’t provide the appropriate shot.

Initially, the desired effect may have been to reproduce the sensation of playing a video game, particularly during the action sequences. Indeed, the movie describes itself as “… a new model of action thriller for the video game generation.”

While there are a few twists that may surprise some viewers unfamiliar with zombie movie conventions, ‘Pandemic’ otherwise pretty much hits all the usual tropes and will feel very familiar to fans and aficionados of the Zombie genre.

Most found footage/first-person aspect movies succeed or fail on their use of action sequences. ‘Pandemic’ has several good sequences of gore-splattery propulsion and manic mayhem as the deranged, cannibalistic infected try different means of luring the team off the bus, or opt for the tried and true method of simply hurling themselves at whatever comes their way.

The film has all the motion-sickness-inducing visuals that the ‘shaky cam’ found-footage method induces and, as is another common problem, it’s sometimes hard to tell quite what is going on. In this, as in other movies, the near-nonstop action becomes less comprehensible and impactful than it would have been if it had been conventionally filmed.

The movie does however, benefit from decent performances. Rachel Nichols’s lead character provides a twist midway which changes the course of the action. Alfie Allen’s ‘Wheeler’ starts out as a self-serving stereotype, but is allowed to surprise us by evolving into a more complex role. Phifer’s is essentially the hard-bitten soldier, but he manages to tease some nuances from the part. The versatile Missi Pyle remains interesting and sympathetic, but somewhat underused.

The actors make the best of their roles, screenwriter Dustin T. Benson makes a concerted effort to build a consistently engaging world. Nicholas Larrabure’s editing and Alec Puro’s electronica-flavoured score are among the more resourceful elements.

‘Pandemic’s main drawback is that it is so derivative. The Zombie apocalypse sub-genre of Horror is now so densely populated and offers so little opportunity for variation, that any such movie really requires something extraordinary to stand out. As for ‘the video game generation’ that is their target audience – I fear that they have been so inundated with this kind of subjective ‘immediacy’ that ‘Pandemic’ will offer little inherent novelty.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2016 All rights reserved.

Images - Amazon, Sisily Publicity

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