- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On April 1, 2016
- 0 Comments
The found footage genre has had a long love affair with the horror genre, adding real-world gravitas and grit to draw viewers into the worlds that filmmakers build. No matter how outlandish the premise the combination of amateurish framing and POV shakiness work together to create an experience that, while often derided for its (intentional) lack of filmmaking flair, works wonders on suspension of disbelief. It worked for The Blair Witch Project; it worked for Cloverfield; does it work for Pandemic?
Set in the near future, Pandemic focuses on a pandemic (imagine that), a virus that has devastated the world’s population. Flu-like symptoms quickly degrade into madness and violence, with the world being divided into two groups: the uninfected that band together to try and find a cure, and the infected that run amok in the smoldering ruins of society.
Dr. Lauren Chase (Rachel Nichols, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra) is an employee of the CDC working under the gruff Dr. Greer (Paul Guilfoyle, CSI), who sends her and a group of other uninfected citizens to answer a distress signal in Los Angeles. Their goal is to make contact with the group of survivors, rescue any uninfected, and leave the infected behind. Chase is joined by Gunner (Mekhi Phifer, 8 Mile), Wheeler (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones), and Denise (Missi Pyle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as they drive a prison bus through hordes of the infected in order to reach their goal.
The found-footage element comes from the hazmat suits that the team wears, all of which contain head-mounted cameras. Director John Suits (The Scribbler) bounces between the different characters’ cameras as well as closed-circuit cameras that pepper LA to paint a post-apocalyptic picture that works much better than many similar efforts have. At times it becomes a little absurd and video-gamey during the various firefights that erupt between Chase’s team and the infected, with shotguns peeking up from the bottom of the screen like a game of Duke Nukem 3D, but Suits’ main goal—making the viewer experience the terror along with the characters—is achieved with gritty gusto.
And you will experience terror, or revulsion, or disgust at Pandemic. Simply put, this movie is nasty, not pulling any punches with its gore or sights of inhuman cruelty. Within 90 minutes multiple skulls are smashed to pulpy ruin, intestines are yanked free like gruesome garland, eyes are gouged out, and blood paints the walls in rusty smears. There’s no levity or humor to brighten the brutality, either. Pandemic, for better or worse, is stone-sober in its presentation, painting a world without hope or light, only people grasping at straws to try and rein in the chaos that has erupted.
Thankfully, the phenomenal cast makes this bleak affair simultaneously easier and harder to swallow. Nichols portrays a woman who hasn’t given up on her missing family in spite of overwhelming odds, even going so far as to hide potentially deadly secrets from her team. Phifer and Pyle turn in great supporting performances, with their own skeletons rattling in their closets and forcing their hands. The best performance by far comes from Alfie Allen, who portrays Wheeler as an ex-con with a sense of duty and honor that endears you to him once he shakes off his cold exterior. Unfortunately, the fact that you actually like these characters only makes it all the more difficult to accept them as grist for the mill. When they die (not much of a spoiler…this is a horror movie) it genuinely sucks, making you both tip your hat and shake your fist at writer Dustin T. Benson. His script is fast-paced and wickedly tense, with very few missteps, and he manages to flesh out the characters just enough for us to care, but not so much that we’re subject to exposition or info-dumps. The most shocking are the hints of humanity that he gives the infected, breaking up the snarling 28 Days Later-shaded rabidity with moments that remind you that these aren’t monsters or zombies, but sick people. One grueling moment had an infected man begging for mercy mere moments after he cannibalized a character, which raises some very uncomfortable questions about the actions of our protagonists and the rest of the uninfected society.
In fact, if there’s one adjective I could use to describe Pandemic, it’s “uncomfortable.” Between the choking suspense, gut-churning violence, and genuinely grim moments that leap over the proverbial line, Pandemic is a hard movie to sit through…but for all the right reasons.