The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Sometimes, a formulaic movie can be redeemed by an original twist. Other times, an original twist only accentuates how formulaic a movie really is. Pandemic falls into the second category. An ingenious visual style is on full display during the action sequences, yet when everything stops for story and character moments, it's hard not to feel an overwhelming sense that you've seen all this before – and that's because, really, you have.

In the near future, a virus has wiped out large sections of the population, turning the infected into bloodthirsty zombie-like creatures. Rachel Nichols plays Lauren, a doctor who comes to Los Angeles to be part of a team dedicated to locating, rescuing, and treating uninfected survivors. She's also hoping to divert the mission slightly to look for her missing husband and daughter. Together with the other members of her unit – no-nonsense leader Gunner (Mekhi Phifer), felon Wheeler (Alfie Allen), and grieving mother Denise (Missi Pyle) – Lauren hops on a bus and heads for a local school, where survivors and much-needed supplies are believed to be located. The mission should be simple, but it quickly becomes life-threatening for all involved.

Pandemic was directed by John Suits, whose The Scribbler is one of the most gloriously insane (and under-seen) sci-fi pictures of recent years. He shoots the action sequences in first-person format, allowing us to see things through Lauren's eyes or, occasionally, the eyes of the other characters. This is a terrific new spin that shows you how they deal with zombie attacks and other tense situations from the inside. (The perspective is not unlike playing a first-person shooter videogame.) Several excellent set pieces are scattered throughout Pandemic, all of which have the effect of making the audience feel like a part of the movie. Seeing things as you would if you were one of the characters gives these scenes an added sense of tension and excitement. The technical mastery used to execute them is admirable.

Unlike the filming technique, Pandemic's story elements are pretty generic. If you've ever seen an outbreak thriller, zombie movie, or episode of The Walking Dead, you'll recognize them. Characters constantly worry about getting bitten and infected. There's a theme about several of them looking for a “second chance.” People talk of “cures” and making it to “safe zones.” These are just a few examples. Pandemic marches diligently through the cliches of nearly every viral thriller/undead tale. The screenplay by Dustin T. Benson doesn't find any fresh way to approach the material, nor does it devise anything other than stock characters with predictable motivations for us to follow. Credit, though, for managing to pull off an ending that is both nihilistic and hopeful at the same time.

The unfortunate thing is that this movie would have played much better seven or eight years ago, before The Walking Dead made zombie stories a phenomenon. (At worst, it likely would have been seen as a variation on 28 Days Later.) There have been so many films and TV shows assembling these same components in essentially the same way since then. Even when done at a perfectly acceptable B-movie level, the mixture simply doesn't engage as strongly anymore. In the end, Pandemic is about half an interesting movie. The first-person action scenes are a lot of fun, but everything else is so routine by this point that you may find yourself mentally going on autopilot whenever someone isn't fighting off hordes of infected.

( out of four)

Pandemic is unrated, but contains language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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