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Pandemic (Movie Review)

Pandemic (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: As the world struggles to overcome the outbreak of a zombie-making virus, a search and rescue team is sent into the quarantined city of Los Angeles to extract a busload of the uninfected. But not everyone on the team is who they seem to be.

REVIEW: It's starting to look like director Franck Khalfoun was on to something with his 2012 remake of MANIAC, which was shot from the perspective of a scalp-hunting serial killer. First person perspective movies keep popping up lately, to the point where it makes you wonder if P.O.V. flicks are going to be the gimmick trend that replaces found footage.

For PANDEMIC, director John Suits bridges the two trends by mixing found footage and first person together. While almost the entire film is shot from the perspective of its characters, we're not exactly seeing through their eyes. Cameras are still involved. When a search and rescue team is sent into the quarantined, zombie-ridden city of Los Angeles, we follow their progress through cameras mounted on the helmets of their bio-suits. They are told to keep these cameras running at all times, as footage from missions like this have been invaluable in the process of trying to figure out how to handle the virus outbreak that is turning people into zombies.

We don't only see the action through these helmet cams, though. When it's necessary to get another angle to properly convey what's going on, Suits will cut away to security camera footage or even shoot from the P.O.V. of a smartphone screen as it's being swiped. There are also some shots in here that are highly questionable, where there might not have been a camera source within the film's reality at all. For example, I've never seen a camera mounted on the side of an ambulance.

Taking the first person approach to filming PANDEMIC was really the best marketing decision they could have made, because it draws attention to a movie that otherwise could have been completely overlooked in this time of zombie oversaturation. Beyond the way it's shot, there is nothing to make PANDEMIC stand out from the pack.

Writer Dustin T. Benson did create his own version of zombies within this story, although the influence of previous zombie and virus movies are so clear that the infected people here really aren't that unique. There are five stages to this virus, which eventually leaves the infected brain damaged and highly aggressive, so some of the zombies in earlier stages are still functionining on higher levels than those at stage five - some can still speak, some can set traps. But the majority of those we see within the film are stage five, and at that point they're running, snarling maniacs who could have easily come straight out of 28 DAYS LATER or the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. 

If you like your zombies to be of the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or The Walking Dead variety, PANDEMIC is not your speed. To make matters worse, when these fast-moving zombies are attacking, the movie becomes intensely annoying to watch; when viewing the action through the first person perspective, it's very tough to tell exactly what's going on. It doesn't help that the helmet cams are slightly off from the actual line of sight for the characters, causing some awkward angles that get even more troublesome when you're cutting between all these odd angles as the people the cameras are attached to are making frantic, shaky movements. The action sequences here are a messy nightmare to endure, and when they aren't going on the film itself sometimes moves at a pace even slower than a Romero zombie.

PANDEMIC does benefit from having a solid cast. Rachel Nichols takes the lead as a doctor whose mission is to test the survivors they find, weeding out the ill to leave behind, rescuing only those still healthy. Level one of the illness can be treated, but only the doctor will be given that treatment. Anyone else who is infected is to be left behind, no matter what stage they're at, even if they're her fellow rescue team members. They are played by Missi Pyle, a barely recognizable Mekhi Phifer, and Alfie Allen, who you may remember hating in JOHN WICK. His character here isn't usually very pleasant, either. None of these characters are particularly great, but they all get their moments and stories, and they become more interesting when the mission goes off the rails. You see, not everyone on this mission is who they say they are, and they have entered Los Angeles with their own agenda. Their own rescue priorities.

Fans of the actors involved are who I would most recommend PANDEMIC to, with those who have an appreciation for Nichols and/or Allen being the ones likely to get the most out of watching it. Zombie fans won't see anything they haven't seen before, and none of the zombie action is really exciting, original, or shot well enough to make the movie worth seeking out. The first person perspective will probably draw in a good amount of curious viewers, but there's a chance your viewing experience might go like mine, where I started off curious to see how the P.O.V. aspect would work and quickly found myself wishing things had been shot in a more traditional manner.

Overall, PANDEMIC is rather underwhelming. It's not a bad movie, but it brings nothing new or special to the table, despite its shooting style.

Extra Tidbit: XLrator Media will be releasing PANDEMIC into theatres on April 1st, with a VOD/iTunes release to follow on April 5th.

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