Director – John Suits, Screenplay – Dustin S. Benson, Producers – Gabriel Cowan & John Suits, Photography – Mark Putnam, Music – Alec Puro, Production Design – Yong Ok Lee. Production Company – New Artists Alliance/Parkside Pictures/Tadross Media Group.
Rachel Nichols (Dr Lauren Chase), Alfie Allen (Frederick Wheeler), Missi Pyle (Denise), Mekhi Phifer (Gunner), Paul Guilfoyle (Dr Greer), Danielle Rose Russell (Megan Thomas), Pat Healy (Dr Ward)
Dr Lauren Chase joins a military unit set up in the safe zone in Los Angeles. Outside the safe zone, the populace has become infected with the Philo Virus. She learns that when infectees reach Stage 5 they become ravening zombies. As a former CDC lab technician, Lauren is placed in charge of a four-person military unit that is assigned to go out into the infected zone and rescue survivors from a previous expedition who are sheltering at a hospital. The group depart in a converted school bus. Soon they are surrounded by the infected, attacking and attempting to commandeer the bus. The attacks become so extreme they are forced to abandon the bus and flee on foot. In the midst of the chaos, Lauren attempts to find if her daughter is still alive.
Pandemic comes from John Suits. It was Suits’ fifth film as a director – he had previously made the horror film Breathing Room (2008), the non-genre likes of Family of Four (2009) and 2nd Take (2011), and The Scribbler (2014), an SF film about multiple personalities, and subsequent to this the space station film 3022 (2019). Suits has far more credits as a producer with the New Artists Alliance production company, headed by he and his business partner Gabriel Cowan, who is also co-producer on this film. Their films include the genre likes of Growth (2010), Extracted (2012), Static (2012), Bad Milo! (2013), Cheap Thrills (2013), 400 Days (2014) and Fear, Inc. (2016).
The title Pandemic is misleading. If you go into the film knowing nothing about it, the assumption is that you are about to watch a plague outbreak drama along the lines of Outbreak (1995) or Contagion (2011). The actuality you find soon in is that Pandemic is a zombie film. The misleading title could be because the zombie film has become such a creatively exhausted genre in recent years that Suits and co wanted audiences to go in without prior expectations.
The premise of the expedition into the lawless anarchic walled-off zone is one derived from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), albeit put at the behest of the zombie film. Several subsequent films have used a very similar premise with Redcon-1 (2018), Peninsula (2020) and Army of the Dead (2021)
Pandemic is also a Found Footage zombie film that takes place from the point-of-view of helmet-mounted cameras that the various members of the party wear into the infection zone. We’ve had Found Footage zombie films before with George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) and [Rec] (2007) and sequels, while the helmet POV-shot effect was previously used in the Nazi zombie film Bunker of the Dead (2015). Quite clearly the intent here has been to replicate a First Person Shooter videogame a la Doom (1993) and show characters wading into combat wielding shotguns, machetes and various improvised weapons against the dead.
John Suits holds your attention. During the first ten minutes, we are captivated by the rules that Paul Guilfoyle outlines to Rachel Nichols and the dramatic urgency of his warnings, leaving us wondering what kind of a threat we are dealing with, all before we get to see the Stage 5 infection and realise it is a zombie (even though the word is never used).
Even then, none of the warnings quite prepare you for when the bus ventures out of the safe zone and is immediately mobbed by infected and zombies, trying to break through the meshed windows and doors, where they have to be battered, shot and kicked out the end of the bus. Thereafter, Suits keeps the film going at a fast pace, frequently interrupted by attacks and furious attempts to fend off the infected. The enthusiasm with which Suits is making the film clearly communicates itself.