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: