While there’s nothing especially wrong with videogame-inspired zombie flick Pandemic, there’s not much that this rote genre entry gets especially right, either. In 2016, there’s no shortage of zombie films. Nor is there a dearth of found footage movies, and with this year’s releases of Hardcore Henry, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, neither are films inspired by videogames in short supply. Consequently, one could argue that Pandemic‘s attempt at squeezing itself into all three overstuffed markets is admirable and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t work as a solid B-movie.
It has pedigree in the form of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead star Mekhi Phifer, and the REC series has ably demonstrated that the intensity of found footage is a great fit for frantic undead carnage. However, rather than building on what has come before it, Pandemic is content merely to ape old formulas with stock characters and a derivative plot. Even its title is bland, recalling generic bargain-bin games more than the legacy of George Romero. The film’s unique gimmick – being stylistically ‘inspired’ by videogames – is not without promise, but in execution feels like it was devised by someone who’s heard about them, rather than actually having played them.
The first-person perspective is clearly designed to mimic the feel of a game, but succeeds only in reminding viewers of those dreadful interactive movies from the days of the Sega Mega-CD. It’s possible to forgive the often cringe-worthy dialogue – “humanity is all we have left” – as an homage to the bad writing of games, but even this negates the fact that the writing of the similarly-themed 2013 game The Last of Us, among others, is far superior to Pandemic‘s. Not that films can’t transcend sub-par writing with good direction, performances and editing, of course. It’s just that Pandemic doesn’t manage this either, with gloomy locations and editing so incoherent that it’s often impossible to tell what is happening or even whose perspective we’re supposed to be seeing the murky action from.
With the sheer glut of risible direct-to- video zombie trash available, it’s possible for a genre fan to do much worse. Many of Pandemic‘s stronger scenes come in between the moments of dull action, where it remembers, if only briefly, that the strength of a zombie film comes from the tense interactions of characters pushed to the limit, and not from excessive splatter and gore. The notion of different stages of zombie infection is neat, too, allowing for the recently-infected to wield weapons, lay traps and even beg for their lives while still-warm innards hang from their mouths. Pandemic isn’t bad per se, but while it’s a sufficiently amusing diversion for fans of the genre, it is unavoidably forgettable set against the superior films and videogames to which it aspires.