This fast-paced, well-cast action-horror-SF film isn’t quite a found footage zombie movie in the tradition of [REC] because it isn’t strictly found footage – though a great deal of the film consists of helmet-cam shots heavily influences by first-person shooter gameplay – and its attacking hordes aren’t strictly zombies. In a slightly more complicated set-up than usual, the pandemic that has beset the bulk of humanity is an infection with five stages – allowing for a variety of symptoms that evoke previous disease-zombie apocalypse pictures. Stage One, which is treatable, is just a bad case of flu as in The Stand or Contagion through, but most who get the bug soon turn into frenzied mad folk like The Crazies and the … 28 days later enraged. Some progress to become cunning, yet desperate cannibals who co-operate, stake out an unifected woman as a trap, can plead for their lives and gobble guts (as in Apocalisse Domani/Cannibal Apocalypse). A dormant phase which involves the heartbeat slowing to simulate death (as in the teterodoxin-dosed zombies of The Serpent and the Rainbow) but those who come out of that turn into fast, ghoulish creatures who represent the video game-World War Z mutation of the Night of the Living Dead strain of zombie.
Lauren (Rachel Nichols), a doctor, is despatched from a fortified military-scientific enclosure to bring in survivors holed up in a school, as part of a team which includes a driver (Alfie Allen), a gunner (Mekhi Phifer) and a map-reader (Missi Pyle). Outside the safehaven, nothing goes well as the crew cope with repeated attacks and it becomes apparent that Lauren has another agenda. As in quite a few American disaster/apocalypse movies (Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, World War Z, San Andreas), there’s an assumption that family trumps all other concerns – and the fact that the heroine’s quest is to save her daughter is supposed to outweigh any incidental deaths caused by her deviation from the mission, which it turns out is pretty much a bust anyway. It’s effective characterisation and not entirely beyond belief, but Nichols’ determined Mom (like the heroes of the other films in this cycles) shows such a streak of ruthlessness in protecting her own that she risks becoming actively unsympathetic.
The game-cam stuff is sometimes potent – blood spattering up across a visor-screen as the viewpoint character is munched by cannibals, plenty of accurate shotgun blasting of screeching extras – but gets in the way of getting to know the fairly thin characters, though Allen and Pyle snatch moments in the chaos. With the proliferation of movies like this, each entry has to find new things to do – in the case of Pandemic, they are mostly small twists on established conventions. Scripted by Dustin T.Benson; directed by John Suits (Breathing Room).