Aside from a neat visual gimmick, 'Pandemic' is a dull, schlocky affair.
Pandemic is exactly what it says it is. There is no deceptive setup, no mind-altering plot twist, and no moment where the story’s world suddenly expands to encompass something much more grand and complex. Director John Suits’ infection thriller has none of the disease politics of Contagion or the thematic underpinnings of Blindness. It skews much closer to the raw thrills of something like [REC], sticking to a simple, survival plot, relying on its POV gimmick (the film is shot almost entirely through cameras mounted on the characters’ hazmat suits) and gore money shots for entertainment value. This is an unpretentious B-movie executed with enough competence to keep it out of the Syfy Channel’s late night rotation, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly compelling.
Lauren (Rachel Nichols) is newly stationed at a compound that serves as a quarantine zone for survivors of an outbreak that has swept across the planet in the near future. The origins of the disease are kept relatively vague, but we’re given plenty of hints at the condition of the outside world through a dose of exposition that opens the film. Our protagonist gets assigned as a doctor to a four-person squad. Their mission is to maneuver a bus across a ravaged Los Angeles to a school, where they must gather any survivors hiding there and pick up whatever supplies they might find. As you might expect, the trip doesn’t exactly go as planned, and the team finds itself stranded amongst diseased monsters.
Standing in the way of the main characters’ survival are the infected hordes. They’re never referred to as “zombies” but they might as well be, if not for their intelligence. There are multiple levels of the virus’ degradation, and depending on where someone falls on that scale, they may have the ability to set traps and use tools, or they may possess superhuman strength and exist in an animalistic, heightened state of awareness. Either way, they’re out to kill anything that moves.
The environment of Pandemic is a post-apocalyptic cityscape that’s all too familiar. Short drive-by montages show signs of a severe societal upheaval; bodies hang from a towering crane, disenfranchised citizens shuffle along the sidewalks, and the walls are covered with ominous messages written in graffiti. The film’s world is grimy and squalid, but the up-close and personal nature of the POV camerawork does little to sell viewers on its authenticity. Clearly showing the limits of its low budget, the key locations are confined to empty interiors and small portions of isolated side streets. The idea of a larger city, teeming with dangers, existing beyond the boundaries of these secluded spaces is almost never grasped with any tangibility, and this is a major blow to the sense of immersion that Pandemic tries to evoke.
When it comes to the compact unit of protagonists, the details aren’t any more inspired. The armed bodyguard of the group (Mekhi Phifer) is gruff and authoritative, full of big talk and more than capable of backing it up with action. He criticizes Lauren for her dangerous indecisiveness and knocks heads with the team’s driver (Alfie Allen), a scrappy ex-con who manufactures a snarky line or hotheaded retort for every occasion. Completing the group of four is a navigator named Denise (Missi Pyle), a warmer presence in comparison to the other two who befriends Lauren. Phony banter between team members is consistent throughout, and the chemistry shared by the actors is nothing more than superficial.
Screenwriter Dustin T. Benson tries to fill out these one-dimensional characters with a series of emotionally contrived backstories, giving almost everyone a missing or dead loved one. The undercurrents of self-doubt and atonement give some weight to the characters’ predicaments, but these redemptive arcs are so tired it’s hard to care about how they play out. As with the setting, these conflicts are far from new, and neither the middling direction nor the serviceable performances are enough to elevate the familiarity to something more nuanced.
However, Pandemic is a film with schlocky roots and instincts, taking more pleasure in its cheesy-looking creatures and bloody encounters than in its tacked on human drama. But a mix of dark settings and shaky POV cinematography makes it difficult to see every moment of action. Only one sequence—which transforms a locker room into a gory obstacle course—stands out as especially riveting. But it’s only one scene in a long string of dull skirmishes and numbingly repetitive jump scares.
When looking for outbreak thrillers, there are a lot of films worse than Pandemic, but this is hardly prime material. The film offers nothing new besides its POV visuals perspective, and even that aspect isn’t terribly memorable. Poor effects and mediocre sound design round out what amounts to a bland, derivative experience.