Studio: XLrator Media
Director: John Suits
Writer: Dustin T. Benson
Producer: Gabriel Cowan, John Suits
Stars: Rachel Nichols, Alfie Allen, Paul Guilfoyle, Pat Healy, Missi Pyle, Mekhi Phifer, Danielle Rose Russell, Robert Lewis Stephenson, Amanda Baker, Sara Tomko, Dominic Bogart
An inexperienced doctor is tasked to lead a team searching for survivors after a virus mutates most of Earth’s population.
In the big book of overused film criticism clichés, “doesn’t bring anything new to the table” ranks right up there with “must see,” “instant classic,” and “thrill ride.” All four phrases ought to be permanently put out to pasture, which is a shame since one of them works perfectly for describing “Pandemic.”
Seeing as how the movie is itself comprised of commonplace tropes for a post-apocalyptic feature however, I suppose I can follow suit by not bothering to break new ground on the turn of phrase front, either. In that case, “Pandemic” can be simply summarized as a slightly above average outbreak film, but one that “doesn’t bring anything new to the table.”
A virus has decimated the planet’s population. Anyone not among the billions dead is either one of the scant few survivors or, more likely, suffering from one of five stages of infection. Level 1 is “uh oh, this isn’t good.” Level 5 is full blown “28 Days Later” ferocity.
Separated from a family trapped in the lawless suburbs of Sherman Oaks, Dr. Lauren Chase is anxious for a reunion with her husband and daughter. First, she must lead a makeshift militia consisting of a navigator, gunner, and wheelman into a Los Angeles warzone on a desperate search for fellow survivors. Lauren is ill-suited for the savage battle ahead against hordes of infected humans, though that might not be due to rattled nerves. Rather, Lauren is hiding a surprising secret that could endanger everyone counting on her for their survival.
The usual assortment of archetypes populates the story’s “Escape from New York” meets “Dawn of the Dead” setup. Dr. Lauren is inexperienced when it comes to weapons, more than once freezing in the face of danger to the dismay of those requiring her teamwork. Then there is the grim gunner whose wife went missing in the melee and who is always looking for an opportunity to resume his search. There is also a streetwise hard ass who has seen it all, dishing out disses to those who can’t stand the heat and first to the fray whenever it comes time to fight.
What keeps “Pandemic” from sinking under stereotypical construction is a roster of recognizable talent giving gravitas to an otherwise routine survival story. Paul Guilfoyle as the man in charge of the mission has the gravelly demeanor to make inconsequential exposition sound important. Alfie Allen trades his natural English accent to try being a Slim Shady soundalike. It’s bizarrely not so hot, but such an unusual idea for Allen to make his part more interesting that it becomes fascinating. Rachel Nichols makes the most of her lead role and together, the ensemble keeps the film afloat purely through presence. A lesser cast and “Pandemic” would be forgotten in minutes.
“Pandemic” fits into the “found footage” category. Kind of sort of, anyway. Lauren and her team wear helmet cams on their biohazard suits with 95% of everything onscreen displayed from a POV perspective through those lenses. The other 5% is shot from scattered surveillance cameras or seemingly unmotivated sources coming from who knows where.
There isn’t any actual fiction behind the footage being “found,” per se. At least one shot even racks focus from background to foreground and back again, as though the helmet camera has its own 1st A.C. standing to the side working the lens. Music cues also accompany key moments, so it isn’t entirely clear what the conceit of the “found footage” angle is intended to accomplish.
Whatever reason director John Suits and cinematographer Mark Putnam have for filming “Pandemic” in first-person appears unrelated to story, and more of an artistic choice to give the movie a pseudo-video game quality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “Doom”-inspired infected attack sequences where a shotgun barrel pokes conspicuously and continuously from the bottom of the screen.
If it isn’t employed purely for style, then the “found footage” framework makes even less functional sense. Despite the first-person perspective, “Pandemic” rarely feels as immersive as “found footage” should primarily because the movie is edited with traditional action movie anxiousness.
When infected attack and guns start firing, rarely does a single shot last longer than two seconds before a frantic finger on the “Cut” button jumps to another herking and jerking helmet camera. Good luck determining who is who or what exactly is going on while the picture induces whiplash whenever action intensifies. When things aren’t too dark, the movie looks good visually, though a great deal of the duration is spent blurring things into a murky jumble.
It might not matter though, since whatever can be seen is something seen before if you’ve watched only one other viral outbreak sci-fi/horror movie. From Allen’s odd accent to the curious choice to film in first-person when it serves no noticeable rhyme or reason, “Pandemic” can nevertheless be strangely engaging even though it isn’t impressive. Thanks for that goes to a sharp-looking production and a spirited cast.
Just know that “Pandemic” doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Oh, that was already said. That’s okay, everything in “Pandemic” already has been, too.
Review Score: 55