Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. Starring Matt Smith, Natalie Dormer, Clive Standen, John Bradley, Stanley Tucci, Colin McFarlane. Certificate: 15 89 minutes.
Out Now on DVD from Sony Pictures.
This week’s they’re-actually-infected-people-not-really-fast-moving-zombies DVD horror release has a higher pedigree than most, though still isn’t nearly as much fun as NIGHTMARE CITY, the film for which the late, lamented Umberto Lenzi took credit in creating a sub-genre and inspiring 28 DAYS LATER (which also isn’t nearly as much fun as NIGHTMARE CITY). Director Stefan Ruzowitzky showed initial promise with his post-SCREAM German teen-pitched ANATOMIE thrillers, and the eclectic cast incorporates one recent DOCTOR WHO, two-for-the-price-of-one GAME OF THRONES actors and, bizarrely, Stanley Tucci.
The set up is all too familiar, though the source of the outbreak would have felt more topical and frightening in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when visitors or returnees to England would be confronted with terrifying Dire Warning rabies posters at the airport and cheery BBC miniseries like THE MAD DEATH offering further doomy lecturing about the dangers of the disease. A new super-strain of rabies named “Mad Dog Disease” (or, presumably, “Cujo” for short) has swept the world. The President insists there is no reason to panic, other than the total collapse of modern society and the infection of 99% of the world’s population. The remaining medical and military personnel are operating in a Nuclear silo underground, leading the search for the Patient Zero that will usher in the cure. One such survivor, Matt Smith, is asymptomatic and can communicate with the infected after being bitten, using his powers (and music) to sympathetically communicate with the feral infected.
Although his hard-arse American accent is a little distracting for those who enjoyed Saturday evenings with his very British fish-finger-themed Time Lord quirks, Smith is a charismatic presence here, even if the attempts to give his character depth and humour feel a tad contrived. His love of music extends to giving the incarcerated infected names like Joe Cocker and Pete Townsend, while flashbacks to his infection (and that of the love of his life) fail to distract from the overriding lack of originality.
At around the midpoint, PATIENT ZERO sparks into life thanks to the glorified cameo from the wonderful Stanley Tucci, surprisingly cast as an infected university professor bitten during a brutal assault at one of his lectures. Tucci’s calm reflection on how he returned home from work to kill his family (“I tore my wife’s limbs from her torso like wings from a butterfly…”) is the film’s highlight, and his articulation of what it feels like to be infected – and, by extension, what it means to be human – posits the virus as the “cure” to the “disease” represented by humanity.
This philosophical interlude aside, PATIENT ZERO has plenty of frenetic scenes of mayhem, amputation and nothing much else to distinguish itself from the wave of early 21st century 28 DAYS LATER imitators. The short running time and abrupt non-ending suggests a traumatic post-production history and gives the movie the unwelcome feel of a TV pilot that never got picked up.