Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Writer: Mike Le
Producer: Vincent Newman
Stars: Matt Smith, Natalie Dormer, John Bradley, Clive Standen, Colin McFarlane, Agyness Deyn, Stanley Tucci, James Northcote, Frederick Schmidt
The last remaining medical and military personnel struggle to find a cure after a super-strain of rabies infects most of the global population.
As most of the world’s population continues transforming into violent hordes of rabid infected, the last remaining medical and military personnel bunker in a cavernous underground shelter. There, a scrappy female scientist desperate to engineer a vaccine regularly butts heads with an alpha male soldier who’d rather shoot every dangerous test subject than round them up for research. Meanwhile, an infected captive breaks loose to bite an attendant’s arm, forcing an emergency amputation. Another infected captive, oddly more sentient than the rest, could hold the key to finally uncovering a cure.
Does that summary sound like 1985’s “Day of the Dead” to you? Well, it also describes 2018 thriller “Patient Zero,” a movie mimeographed so heavily from George A. Romero’s zombie classic, it could almost be considered a remake.
In that regard, “Patient Zero” may be a more tolerable watch than any of the “official” “Day of the Dead” sequels/prequels/reboots. But that’s like saying drowning is better than immolation or strangulation when asked to choose between three ways of dying. Because although “Patient Zero” isn’t as abysmally awful as “Day of the Dead 2: Contagium” or “Day of the Dead: Bloodline” (review here), it isn’t a particularly fascinating, full-bodied, or worthwhile film either.
“Patient Zero’s” zombies aren’t technically zombies. A super-strain of rabies jumped species to infect humans, turning anyone afflicted into a “28 Days Later”-type maniac hellbent on tearing flesh with teeth and bare hands.
“Patient Zero’s” additional deviations from the broad strokes of Romero’s influence feature Morgan, an infected man who curiously hasn’t turned. Not only does that make Morgan’s blood unique for administering temporary inoculations, it makes Morgan the only person capable of communicating with the infected. Through his interrogations of forcibly restrained test subjects, Dr. Gina Rose attempts to trace the outbreak’s origins.
With Morgan matched against Michael, a cagily cunning captive who may know the truth about the titular MacGuffin, “Patient Zero” makes the tête-à-tête between Matt Smith and Stanley Tucci its main attraction. Under normal circumstances, playing two actors of their collective caliber off of as well as against one another would singlehandedly justify the price of admission. Stymied by a stale script who slimness must mean it was shredded to ribbons (otherwise its 2013 Blood List appearance sparked a perplexingly undeserved bidding war), both men quickly run out of room to craft anything captivating out of cheapened characterizations and questionable creative choices.
Chewing on an indeterminate American accent seemingly meant to sound vaguely like Mark Wahlberg, Smith portrays a typically confident, fast-talking intellectual. Of course, that opens the door wide for Tucci’s slyer antagonist to boil Morgan’s cooled temperament into frustrated hotheadedness using smug smirks and cryptic conversation. Instead of a juicy DeNiro/Pacino faceoff, we get an imitative Will Graham/Hannibal Lecter knockoff. This would-be marquee draw never gains ground because the movie contentedly gives up on initial attempts at originality to go forward with half-baked efforts on virtually every front.
A potentially complicated love triangle involving Gina, Morgan, and Morgan’s infected wife who is cognizant yet undead briefly teases a fresh take on the “what if my transformed loved one can be turned back?” trope. Then the situation trades down for the simplistic soap opera dramatics of an unexpected pregnancy and a self-sacrifice lacking emotional punch.
Predictable events continue with an overrun of infected, a cowardly killing, and a perilous escape through, what else, ventilation ducts. The final fight takes place in a room where a six-foot-long metal spike happens to be conveniently positioned at a perfect height for impaling a person’s chest.
“Patient Zero” ridiculously races to its credit scroll too, hoping the rush can hide the fact that a proper ending isn’t included. Perhaps no one had the time, money, or interest to actually film one. Abruptly out of gas, the immaterial flick fades to black with laughably tacked-on narration from Matt Smith, echoing Roger Meyers explaining Poochie’s sudden disappearance with, “I have to go now, my planet needs me.”
I’m often unforgiving when it comes to inconsiderate cellphones illuminating a darkened multiplex mid-movie. Had I seen “Patient Zero” in a theater, I would have made sympathetic exceptions for anyone tempted to tap a handheld screen out of disinterested boredom. I probably would have leaned over for a look myself, since odds favor that a quick check of current weather conditions would reveal a more meaningful mystery than this movie has.
“Patient Zero” can’t come up with any inspired scenes, effects, performances, or pieces to sustain its setup. In turn, I can’t come up with any more creative adjectives for describing it besides “average” at best and “derivative” at worst.
Review Score: 40