Pandemic (2016): A Survival Horror Video Game Movie (Review)

Rachel Nichols as Lauren Chase

Anyone who has played survival horror video games will appreciate this 2016 movie  from John Suits. Written by Dustin T. Benson and starring Rachel Nichols, Missi Pyle, Pat HealyAlfie AllenMekhi Phifer  and Paul Guilfoyle;  Pandemic is a mixture of different  influences.

Simplistically it is “28 Days Later” meets “Condemned: Criminal Origins” meets “Dead Space.”  Although  none of the infected rush at the camera gleefully screaming “You can be my B*TCH.” (Condemned)   There are not any “space monsters” either but the flashlight beams and the first person perspective match beautifully. The film is also very evocative of F.E.A.R. and players of this “first person shooter” survival horror will recognize a number of features from that game.

Suits shoves the viewer into this world of apocalyptic suffering instantly. We “play” as Dr. Lauren Chase (Nichols) at first.  The camera takes us though the motions of learning comms, suiting up and what the rules are.  All this takes us immediately into the verse and all that is missing is a controller clutched in sweaty hands and the adrenaline rush that these games inspire.

In fact watching Pandemic feels a lot like watching someone else play one of the aforementioned games.  A little frustrating yet entertaining.  The frustration comes from the “player” not moving quickly enough or endangering the other team members. All that is missing from this experience is a faux “cut scene” where more about the pandemic itself is explained or even a few backstory segments.

The entire movie  is structured like a video game. Writer Benson serves up tropes to help us identify each character and includes a twist at the midway point that keeps our interest. All that is missing is the obligatory onscreen scroll of instructions flashing across the helmet faceplate.

Pandemic is not a fast paced film.  At just over an hour and a half the action tends to be   slow and tense. It is not, amazingly, overly slow. There are points that creep by but when the protagonists reach their objective things swing  into high gear and shoot along nicely.

(Warning: To those who play these games on a regular basis, you will find yourself reaching for a game controller. Repeatedly.)

The cast do well in their respective roles. It was brilliant to see Missy Pyle playing as a more serious character in this science fiction type film. Pat Healy makes the most of his small role and Rachel Nichols is pretty darned good as the doctor with a secret.

The mission storyline is that a group of virus survivors have holed up in a school. There are 98 and the uninfected need to be brought back to the compound. Chase is to return to the compound regardless of whether there are survivors or not. She is also to come back if her team are taken out.

Once the team fight their way to the school there is a “Silent Hill” moment where the doctor has a restroom encounter.  (The “Silent Hill” franchise always features scary moments in bathrooms (restrooms) in the games regardless of the title.)

The group must fight their way out of the building and try to return to the compound. Meanwhile Dr. Chase has a hidden agenda of her own that does not include returning to safety just yet.

Everything about Pandemic screams video game.  After watching it you may have the overpowering urge to fire up the old PS3 (or Xbox) and pop in Condemned; Criminal Origins or F.E.A.R. or even Dead Space. For those who are not devotees of survival horror or even first person shooters (FPS) the film may prove frustrating.

Pandemic is a solid 4 star film.  Only a few continuity issues kept the score down as the novelty value alone give the movie a higher rating than usual.  Streaming on Netflix at the moment, this is one to watch, if for no other reason than to enjoy the experience. Check out the trailer below:

28 Months Later “In the Works”

Poster for 28 Days Later For fans of the original Danny Boyle directed and Alex Garland written 28 Days Later, this could be very good news. Certainly Facebook is full of fans singing their little rage filled hearts out at the recent news that Garland released stating that the script for 28 Months Later has been finished and is in the works but he will have nothing further to do with it.

Alex talks backstory a bit, not on the new 28 Days story but about the path taken to get a sequel worthy of the original. In GamesRadar+ the screenwriter talks about Boyle’s talking about a Garland written sequel while he focussed upon Trainspotting 2 a couple of years ago.

In reference to the Gamesradar+ story, it should be pointed out that they call the film a “zombie” film, which, technically it is not, the films are post-apocryphal and has nothing to do with hordes of the undead.

At that time Alex said he would write it but did not want any active participation in the project. Producer Andrew MacDonald said that he would take care of it. Regardless of whether the writer wants to work on the project, hopefully this sequel should have the same tones of originality that the first one had in spades. The other thing that 28 Days Later had was that wonderfully haunting music, used in a number of other movies, most notably Kick-Ass where the soundtrack was updated for the “Big Daddy Kills” sequence.

While many still refer to the first two as “zombie” films; the scary attacking people in the verse are not, undead flesh eaters. In 28 Days Later the whole outbreak starts because a few animal rights activists go to release monkies who have been infected with Rage. This virus actually turns the primates into screaming murderous, and enraged, creatures who only want to attack. The virus is transferred to people and poor Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find the world in London has changed for the worse.

The first film was brilliant, the cross plot of the Christopher Eccleston’s Army Major, “I promised them women,” and the Brendan Gleeson’s doomed fatherly cab driver, “Get away,” were just icing on the cinematic cake. Naomi Harris and Megan Burns as the women rounded out the casting for this haunting and damned scary film. Boyle proved once again to be the master of celluloid.

Poster for 28 Weeks Later Then came the “star studded” 28 Weeks Later. Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Robert Carlyle and Imogen Poots, in what was her second feature film role, were stuck in an inferior version of Boyle’s and Garland’s Rage infested England. The first clue that this sequel would be lacking was the noticeable absence of both Boyle and Garland on the project. I liked the film because Carlyle was in it and he brought his own special magic to the role of the man who deserts his wife to the infected and then lies to his kids about it.

Jeremy Renner also made me a fan for life as the sniper with a heart and Idris Elba was not used enough. The story was a pallid follow up to the first film and it was a bit disappointing to not see anything of Murphy and Harris, or for that matter Burns, and their characters.

Apart from Garland’s admission that the script is standing by waiting to be greenlit, there is no further information about the project. Considering that the writer has also stated that no one, not even FOX were interested in doing another sequel after 28 Weeks Later does not bode too well for 28 Months Later.

If the film does get the go ahead, it is to be devoutly hoped that the studios do not forget the original premise and make the Rage infected attackers zombies. Let’s keep our film-lore straight here, this is not an English version of The Walking Dead. Hopefully more news will be released on the likelihood of this anticipated film being made, sooner rather than later.

The Walking Dead: Beth in Hospital and Not on a Plate

The Walking Dead: Beth in Hospital and Not on a Plate

A valuable lesson learned, after Bob’s unfortunate demise – but not before infecting the short-lived Terminus survivors with his “tainted” meat – was that reading too much into episodes of The Walking Dead leads to a lot of disdainful discussion and it is going to be hard to not minutely dissect Beth in the hospital and not being served up on a plate somewhere as barbecue. Before even thinking about looking in depth at the episode, two things immediately strike the viewer when watching Slabtown. One, Beth has managed to be introduced to a place just as evil as Terminus and the sub-plot of the show feels sneakily similar to the Brit “zombie” horror film 28 Days Later by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle.

Retreat (2011): Apocalypse on a Scottish Island

First-time director Carl Tibbetts (who co-wrote the screenplay with fellow first-timer Janice Hallett) has delivered a brilliantly claustrophobic apocalyptic film with Retreat. With a cosy cast of three, Jamie Bell, Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy,  Retreat is an atmospheric, tense, scary film that is so full of suspense that you feel the urge to watch it with your teeth clenched.

Rather surprisingly Retreat only got a three star rating on Netflix and IMDb only gave the film a 5.7 out of 10. All three actors turn in a more than adequate performance and Jamie Bell should have been nominated for a best acting award. The more things I see Bell in the more I can appreciate that when it comes to acting, he is a master craftsman who needs to be in more films.

The film starts with Martin and Kate Kennedy (Murphy and Newton) riding out to a remote Scottish island on a boat piloted by Doug (Jimmy Yuill). Doug is taking the young couple to a cottage that he has let out to them on the island. Martin and Kate appear strained and unhappy on the boat ride out and we learn that things aren’t too good between them. They are returning to the quaintly named Fairweather Cottage because they had been there years before during a happier time in their life.

Doug drops the couple off on the island and reminds them that he is on the other end of the CB radio if they need anything. The island is remote and they are the only inhabitants. While they settle into the cottage, Kate starts writing about her troubled marriage and that she and Martin are reeling from her recent miscarriage. The generator dies and Doug has to come out to fix it. The day after he fixes it, the generator breaks again and while Martin is trying to restart it, the generator blows up injuring Martin. Kate radios Doug who says that it will be tomorrow before he can come out.

The next day comes and goes without Doug arriving to fix the generator and they can’t raise him on the radio. Kate looks out an upstairs window and sees a man stumble and fall on the path leading to the cottage. She and Martin go out and bring the unconscious man into the cottage. He is bleeding from a head wound and Kate discovers that their mysterious guest is armed.

While the man is passed out on the couch, Martin takes his gun and hides it in a drawer in the dining room dresser. The man, who is dressed in Army fatigues, wakes up and the three introduce each other. The man’s name is Jack (Bell) and he asks if they are on the island alone and if they have contact with the mainland. Martin explains that they are the only people on the island and that the CB radio is their only means of communication.

Jack then tells them that he is a soldier and that the world is suffering from a major ‘pandemic’ caused by a virus from South America called Argromoto Flu, codenamed R1N16. It is an airborne virus that is highly contagious and deadly. If you contact it, you will start coughing blood, pass the virus on to someone else and then you will die horribly. He tells them that the Army is telling people to barricade themselves indoors until they can come up with a cure.

Jamie Bell as Jack is sinister, aggressive, controlling and scary. Kate doesn’t believe Jack’s story and neither do we. Martin tries to play along until they can find out the truth.

I have heard this film called” Dead Calm on land” and I’ve heard it described as “28 Days Later meets Straw Dogs.” Both comparisons are spot on. This is a thriller of highest calibre and it keeps you constantly on edge and trying to guess which way the film is going. The plot twists are many and you will not guess the ending until it smacks you in the face.

This was Carl Tibbetts first time at bat and he knocked the film firmly and squarely out of the park for a solid home run.  This little film completely sells its plot, characters and mood. It is an unbelievably intense thriller. If I had to give this British cinema offering a score, I’d give it a eleven out of ten and say that this needs be on that list of films to see before you die just for Jamie Bell’s performance alone.  The film is that good and Bell’s performance is that great.

Red Lights (2012): Little Things That You Do

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés (BuriedThe ContestantRed Lights is really a psychological  cum paranormal thriller. Rodrigo’s last film Buried did so well, that the studios obviously trusted him to work with the big money, aka star actors. You cannot really get much bigger than veteran actors Robert De NiroSigourney Weaver, and Joely Richardson.

Add into this already heady mix, the more ‘recent’ dependable actors in the guise of Cillian MurphyElizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones and you have a vehicle that just smacks of success. The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

Sigourney Weaver

Dr Matheson (Weaver) is a psychologist who is also a veteran paranormal “debunker.” She works with her assistant  Dr Buckley (Murphy) who is a physicist. The beginning of the film sees the two “debunking” a typical haunting. That the two are fond of each other is apparent; these two are not just colleagues, they are friends.

After they finish, Matheson asks Buckley to drop her off at the hospital to see her comatose son, who is hooked up to a life support machine.

We next see the two presenting a class to university students. They are “teaching” them how to ‘fake’ a seance. We are introduced very briefly to Sally Owen (Olsen) who after the class approaches Dr Buckley to turn in an assignment. She clearly likes him and they go out  to a diner.  Buckley explains to Sally about  “red lights” which are the subtle tricks that fraudsters use to fool the gullible.

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Tennessee at...

Enter Simon Silver (De Niro) a blind older version of Uri Geller. He can bend spoons, practice telepathy and apparently can levitate. He is making his first public appearance in over thirty years. He ‘retired’ when one of his most fervent denouncers dramatically had a heart attack and died during Silver’s last public appearance.

Buckley wants to immediately investigate Silver and prove that he is a fraud. Dr Matheson urges Buckley to leave it alone. She had faced Silver thirty years ago and she maintains that he is too powerful to be touched. She also reveals that when she had gone up against Silver before, her young son suddenly toppled over and he has never regained conciousness.

Buckley ignores Matheson’s warning and starts investigating Silver anyway.

The build up of suspense in this film was brilliant. It played more like a mystery/thriller for three quarters of the film. The characters of Matheson and Buckley and Owen were drawn so well that we immediately felt a connection with them. In essence before the first twenty minutes of the film we found that we liked them and cared about what they were doing.

I was a little disappointed that Joely Richardson did not have more to do. She played Silver’s manager/agent and she came across as malevolent and not a little scary. De Niro did what he does best. He dominates the screen with his presence alone. He is still capable of catching our attention without saying a word.

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Elizabeth Olsen gave a very sturdy performance as Buckley’s love interest/partner in crime. Cillian Murphy was the stand-out performance in this film. He has come a long way since 28 Days Later and Inception.

English: Actor Cillian Murphy in 2010.

IMDb gives Red Lights a 6.6 out of  10. I would rate it higher just for the high quality of the acting and for the well woven plot. It is one of those films that you should see at least twice to catch every nuance the film has to offer. Just like the “red lights” mentioned by Buckley, the film will mislead you and trick you.

Despite the mediocre and misleading marketing of the film, it is worth the price of admission and splashing out for a bag of popcorn and a coke.