Being the new wave of zombie flick, Pandemic never mentions the ‘Z’ word. In five nasty stages, an infection is transforming the population into violent cannibals with goo dripping from every orifice. Set in Los Angeles, a CDC doctor – Lauren (Nichols) – is assigned to a small team tasked with saving a medical group. Under the news that New York has fallen, we gather that things are pretty glum in the U.S. of A.
Lauren embarks on the journey by bus with three other team members. The driver, known as ‘Wheeler’, is a short-tempered ex-con. It seems to be a step down for Alfie Allen, known for his role on Game of Thrones and as the irritating baddie in John Wick. A tough and grizzled ex-cop named ‘Gunner’ (Phifer) and a female navigator called Denise (Pyle) round out the crew. Of course, it wouldn’t be a film at all if there weren’t a few secret agendas and ulterior motives.
All of the biohazard suits that the team wear are fitted with cameras. What isn’t shot from this perspective is mostly captured by various CCTVs. It’s quickly apparent that the decision to field only four individuals with a handful of weapons is idiotic. Hence, we are treated to some great first-person carnage. The semi-cogent infected run fast and attack in numbers. The action is weighty and frantic. It’s in these moments that the film shines, and at the same time, stalls.
Watching a zombie aerially jiu-jitsued back to his buddies is great in the first person. So are the stabbings, slashings, bludgeonings, and impalings. The weapons are beefy with clicks and booms; the overall sound design is atmospheric and creepy. But the sparse plot simply exists to propel the characters toward the next dose of jostling violence. And within the jittery and frenzied perspective, we, the viewers, begin to feel dizzy. One could argue that the point is to place us in the driver’s seat of an apocalyptic hell hole. That’s all fair and well – but apart from the zombie kills of the week, you can’t help feeling a little confused.
Pandemic is not a bad film by any means. The scenes effectively convey a social collapse and devastated city. The claustrophobic atmosphere is gritty and tense, and the action is often outright entertaining. The actors don’t seem to have a great deal to work with but do a commendable job nonetheless. But it’s is simply a vehicle for the first-person camerawork, and it never seems to move beyond that. It’s worth watching late at night as an entertaining Z-flick, but once will probably be enough.
PANDEMIC / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JOHN SUITS / SCREENPLAY: DUSTIN T. BENSON / STARRING: RACHEL NICHOLS, ALFIE ALLEN, MISSI PYLE, MEKHI PHIFER, PAT HEALY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW