It was in 1988 that Sharyn McCrumb published Bimbos of the Death Sun, set within a science fiction convention, the two protagonists being requested to judge the fiction competition which they proceed to break down into subcategories of dismissal, one of them “transcripts of Dungeons & Dragons sessions.” Without a hint of the satire which won that novel an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery novel, Pandemic is a filmed first person shooter.
In a world which requires neither a new zombie movie nor a new found footage movie, director John Suits and writer Dustin T Benson have conspired to bring the two together in an entirely unwarranted and unwanted fashion, a move which seems solely predicated on the desire to find something new to say within the genre but instead mumbles along to a tune already far too familiar without the courage to update the lyrics.
It is the near future, and two and a half billion people are dead in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. New York has fallen and Doctor Lauren Chase (Continuum’s Rachel Nichols, her talent largely wasted) has arrived in Los Angeles, a quarantined city where the virus is almost endemic through the population. Joining a team of sweepers sent into the city to locate and retrieve survivors, she is idealistic and naïve, and so an immediate liability to her more experienced and cynical colleagues.
Driving the bus, Wheeler (Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) largely keeps to himself and provides little other than profanity, but Gunner (Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s Mekhi Phifer) has no patience for her even though his own behaviour is just as dangerous, reacting emotionally and pulling a gun when his demands are questioned rather than explaining the perfectly legitimate reason why he wants to stop the bus before they have reached their rendezvous.
Only Denise (Slash’s Missi Pyle, dependable even in this) shows intelligence and sympathy, balancing the goals of the mission against the immediate needs of the moment, coaching Lauren and easing the way, but as a team they are incapable of professional behaviour or detachment in the face of the horror, and with the mission seen through the eyes of rookie Lauren it quickly becomes infuriating.
There are moments of potential but all are too quickly swallowed in the noise, and though it is revealed that there is a reason why Lauren is so unprepared it does not explain or forgive how she can be so unaware, with a fifth of the world population dead, what she is going into (“They’re not going to send us out there if it’s dangerous”) or the egregious stupidity established when she leaves the bus without checking and immediately gets grabbed.
From the opening infodump of the viral stages telegraphing everything which will be encountered later in the expedition, the handing around of cellphones with maps highlighted, the tour of the facility with the line which must be followed, the different camera and light settings and insistence that “the camera stays on at all times” as “the information we have recorded has been invaluable,” all aspects of the production emphasise that Pandemic is less attempt to make a decent film than an exercise in justifying the dubious conceit of the piece.
With the analogy of killing the infected to a game of Whac-A-Mole confirming the low expectation the filmmakers have for their target audience, the violence is graphic, gratuitous, unpleasant and so copious as to quickly become tiresome, while the not-so-special effects range from obviously post-production digital blood to truly appalling flare guns, and while it does improve after the first hour by that point the battle is lost.