Patient Zero (2018)
★ / ★★★★
Horror films without a third act must offer something so special in order for the final product to be satisfying, or least to avoid coming across as lazy. With a running time of around eighty minutes, “Patient Zero,” written by Mike Le and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, still feels bloated, from its interminable exposition, dialogue designed to explain rather than to further the plot, to generic flashbacks involving key characters being attacked by the rabid Infected for the first time. Just when it is about to get interesting, it simply… ends. I cannot imagine anyone begging for a sequel.
If being stuck in an underground bunker with uninteresting survivors is your idea of entertainment, then this picture deserves a most enthusiastic recommendation. Still, it is not without curious ideas. For instance, we learn that Morgan (Matt Smith), our protagonist, has been exposed to the rabies-like virus. But instead of being turned, he remains very much human and he is granted the ability to communicate with the Infected (side effect: intense headaches).
As a result, he has become an indispensable member in the government-sponsored research led by Dr. Rose (Natalie Dormer) to reverse-engineer a vaccine that might cure billions. To do this, they must find Patient Zero, the first human infected by the virus, and extract his or her blood. Morgan can essentially interrogate the physically restrained Infected—a species that, in theory, is so driven by animalistic urges, they are incapable of telling lies or deception.
Despite this intriguing idea, the character is a bore because there is a nagging subplot involving love interests. Every time romance becomes the focal point, the material screeches to a halt. It is maddening that Le is so uninspired by his own story that he felt the need to touch upon—but not explore in meaningful or fruitful ways—generic romantic feelings. It might have been different had such relationships commanded strong urgency—at least as urgent as the calamity that had befallen the planet. In a way, the screenplay, too, must function as an effective drama for us to buy into the human relationships, particularly a romantic kind, but it is clear that the material is not that ambitious.
The zombie attacks are not at all memorable. The makeup coupled with special and visual effects are convincing enough, but there is not one ambush or chase scene that stands out from either the technical standpoint or from a visceral perspective. Not once was I scared or was I forced to jump out of my seat. Both suspense and terror are so lacking, I found myself slouching in my seat just waiting for something—anything—to happen. The cast is exciting, from Smith and Dormer to Stanley Tucci, Agyness Deyn, and John Bradley, but not one of them is a standout. (Never mind the inconsistent American accents.)
“Patient Zero” is pedestrian to the bone. Due to the screenplay’s lack of commitment, a willingness to engage the viewer by assuming we are smart or that we had seen countless of undead pictures, not a minute of the film is believable. Even the underground base looks like a set.