In the wake of the ballyhoo surrounding Hardcore Henry, the vogue of the first person perspective seems in a prime position to flood the cinematic market…for better or for worse. Not without its problems, it’s unquestionable that, as a technique, it holds scope for tremendously inventive and confrontational work, as evidenced by Franck Khalfoun’s sublime Maniac. Now, Pandemic, an apocalyptic virulent thriller in the 28 Days Later mould, throws its hat into the ring as the latest first person thriller hoping to make a unique mark. However, the result is a frustratingly predictable affair, with only the most fleeting moments of creativity, suffocated by its style rather than liberated.

Pandemic is set in a near future where a viral epidemic has struck the worldwide population, turning the infected into crazed and dangerous assailants. With the survivors outnumbered and increasingly desperate for a cure, Lauren, a doctor who has escaped the fall of New York, ventures to Los Angeles and joins a team on the ground looking for uninfected survivors. However, there is more than meets the eye to Lauren, and she is driven by something even more important to her than a cure, something that puts herself and her team in the eye of a terrifying storm.

Obviously, this is a film which is being sold upon the aforementioned stylistic decision of framing the film from a first person perspective. It’s an intriguing prospect, especially within a genre that is so much about isolation and escaping a swelling mass of threat, which, in theory, could have afforded director John Suits the opportunity to expand the terror and sensation of fear through the constriction of space and immediacy of the moment. Indeed, the moments the film shines at its strongest comes in the confrontations between the infected and our protagonists, as the waves of chased foes encroach, and the audience must face the violence first hand, leading to tremendous special effect driven kill set pieces that move between crowd pleasing and also genuinely shocking at times for their potency. In particular, one moment where a prone infected has his face mercilessly beaten to a pulp by the butt of a shotgun left me stunned for willingness to commit to the unflinching detail…but more importantly, the inescapable confrontation of the audience’s role as a voyeur to this brutality. In this moment, the film touches ever so slightly and briefly the complex and affective power that first person perspective can hold when used intelligently and with thematic motivation.

However, these moments are all too rare in the grand scheme of the film, and, crucially, the attempts Suits makes to eliminate the apparent weaknesses within the form only serve to maximise them further and diminish the potential impact of the film. One of the biggest perceived hurdles with the first person view is precisely the first person nature of it; trapped to a singular character perspective at a given time. Suits’ attempts to eliminate the apparent weaknesses within the form only serve to maximise them further. To work around the fixed nature of the perspective, he cuts between different characters’ perspectives, creating a motion between them in the mould of the sitcom, Peep Show. Yet, where that style works for the context of televisual comedy, in Pandemic it feels simultaneously disorganised and overly directed; you can feel the hand of the director shaping events, picking the perspectives he wants for maximum dramatic impact, and completely taking the audience out of the reality and immediacy of the situation; reinforced by the bizarre decision to cut occasionally to security camera footage that acts as painfully obvious establishing shots to set scale, but break the intensity of the perspective, completely dispelling the power of that particular concept. Suits’ ill-discipline with the style not only fatally distances the audience, but also condemns it to being articulated as no more than an unnecessary gimmick, adding nothing deeper or more thematically rich to the proceedings.

Another fatal issue with the film comes in terms of its pacing and awareness. To put it bluntly, at its worst, the film is a predictable and dull experience. The narrative twist at the core of the film is so obvious that from the first minutes the destiny of the film is set and the pay off left as a damn squib rather than the character cementing, emotional explosion it was intended to be. Rather than play as a lean b-movie experience, the pervading sense of seriousness creates a dour atmosphere that relegates any potential fun to the bursts of kinetic attacks by the infected. And yet when they end, the film seems to slide back into a rising ocean of insipid gloom, drowning in the miserablism that it has confined itself to. The performances from the main cast are solid, if uninspired, given very little to work with in terms of the script. Indeed for a film as direct and unadorned in terms of complexity as Pandemic, the actors are provided with very little to work with in terms of character depth, as they each fill an entirely clichéd and formulaic space within the team, making real engagement and sympathy a challenge for the viewer to dredge from within. In truth, credit must be given to both Rachel Nichols and Alfie Allen if only because their characters are so dry and instantly dislikeable through the first half of the film, that the way they actually manage to illicit some degree of sympathy and care by the finale is an impressive feat in its own right. Ironically, the sterile nature of the character work is a perfect reflection of the film itself: too dry and self-serious, in a space perfect for expression and creativity.

Overall, Pandemic is no disaster in the slightest; however, it never embraces the potential that is achingly there. The greatest sin the film commits is that it never feels like it attempts to be anything more than average, and in the process, it neglects elements that really could have helped make it a unique and truly effective experience that challenges audiences and revitalises a core horror sub-genre. Ultimately, Pandemic exists as a well-intended, but unsatisfying example to be learned from, rather than heralded.

DVD Review: Pandemic
2.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk