27th Feb2016

Glasgow Frightfest: ‘Pandemic’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Rachel Nichols, Missi Pyle, Alfie Allen, Mekhi Phifer, Paul Guilfoyle, Danielle Rose Russell | Written by Dustin T. Benson | Directed by John Suits


John Suits, director of 2014’s The Scribbler – a personal favourite – is back behind the camera for Pandemic, a first-person look at a zombie outbreak that takes the tropes of the genre and pushes them through the eyes of a modern-day video game…

Set in the very-near future (CCTV footage carries a 2017 date), Pandemic sees a virus of epic proportions carving its way across the planet, wiping out entire cities. There are more infected than uninfected, and humanity is losing its grip on survival. Its only hope is finding a cure and keeping the infected contained. Lauren is a doctor who, after the fall of New York, arrives in Los Angeles to lead the hunt for uncontaminated civilian survivors. But nothing can prepare her crack team for the blood-soaked mayhem they are about to witness as they head into the Californian mean streets where everything is considered a trap.

The first person POV conceit is nothing new in cinema, even in the horror genre. The 2012 remake of Maniac used the perspective of the protagonist to put the audience in the mind (and body) of its killer. Here however Suits mixes perspectives, cutting from person to person, helmet cam to CCTV, all of which almost nullifies the use of the format somewhat. It’s also all very ADHD, the frentic pace of the editing often detracting from the onscreen action. Though to be fair, if the filmmakers were going for a true video game feel they succeeded – it often feels like you’re watching someone switching from first to third person perspective whilst playing a game!

Pandemic‘s pilfering of cinematic tropes isn’t just limited to perspectives however, the film also mixes genres… Part zombie film – even if the monsters of this film are called anything but – part apocalyptic sci-fi, and part nature ran amok film (you can’t help but think of Dustin Hoffman diseases flick Outbreak whilst watching this) Pandemic uses each and every aspect of those genres to great effect, without ever feeling like its parodying those that it borrows from – which could easily have been the case.

If the story feels familiar, there are flourishes of originality and adrenalin-filled genius strewn throughout the film. It’s just a shame that Pandemic often wastes the heart-pounding POV premise on little more than talking heads and exposition. There is a sequence, as the crew try to make their escape from an infected-filled high school, in which Suits and his DOP stage one of THE best first person sequences committed to celluloid (so far, given that Hardcore Henry is around the corner), using parkour, POV and a kick-ass rock soundtrack to create something astonishing. So it’s a shame that the rest of the film cannot, and does not, measure up.

Given that the cast are hampered by the forced narrative aspects of the format Pandemic‘s cast do a decent job of working within the constraints of a first person perspective, even if it does seem like the film would have been better suited to featuring no lead character – instead letting the audience be the “hero”. That there’s a twist to Rachel Nichols’ character means its hard not to dislike her character throughout the majority of the film – even if she is the hero of this tale. Surprisingly Alfie Allen makes for a pretty good anti-hero; and by the same token, it’s also great to see Missy Pyle in a more dramatic rather than comedic role.

Whilst not entirely a success, Pandemic at least attempts to do something interesting in a much-maligned horror sub-genre – which is more than can be said for 99% of other zombie movies these days! And hey, if you ever wondered what it would be like if they made a movie version of Call of Duty: Zombies, then Pandemic is for you.

***½  3.5/5


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