I’d be lying to you if I told you that “Patient Zero” (2018) is an especially good movie. It isn’t. It plays a lot like the classic “28 Days Later” (2002) would play if it were produced by the SyFy Channel, and by that I mean it generally is a poorly written, low-budget cheese-fest. (This is one of those movies where even the score was kinda bad.) Still, there were some hints of greatness hidden within this lackluster zombie movie — enough to save it from being a complete failure — and I would reluctantly rate it a 5 out of 10. (Most other reviewers are not even that kind.)
First, it has some fine performers. These include two “Game of Thrones” actors who are always fun to watch — the mesmerizing Natalie Dormer and the consistently likable John Bradley. (The latter seems to specialize in winning audiences over as the “hero’s-affable-friend” role.) “Doctor Who” fans will of course recognize Matt Smith in the lead role. But by far and away, they’re overshadowed by a fantastic performance by Stanley Tucci as the zombies’ surprisingly eloquent leader. (More on that in a moment.) Tucci is truly a great actor and he makes a perfectly menacing bad guy; his voice, diction and line delivery are goddam perfect. His talent for voicing a magnetic, highly intelligent antagonist reminds me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan on “The Walking Dead,” or one of the better “big bads” seen on “24” (2001 – 2014).
Second, there are some really clever ideas hiding under this thin, hasty script. (I strongly get the sense that “Patient Zero” was a rush job for screenwriter Mike Le and director Vincent Newman.) The hyper-kinetic zombies here are afflicted with “super-rabies” and are reminiscent of their ilk from “28 Days Later.” But there is a truly intriguing plot conceit — their roars and screams are perfectly intelligible to Smith’s protagonist. He speaks their “language” because he’s infected, but also mysteriously asymptomatic. When he interrogates the zombies for the military, their interaction is filmed as normal dialogue (creating the opportunity for Tucci’s terrific turn here). Then things get even more interesting when it’s demonstrated that the ostensibly mindless zombies are quite proficient at planning an attack.
I … might be treating this movie a bit charitably simply because I liked some of its ingredients. Again, I don’t actually recommend it. But your mileage may vary.
Netflix’ “Bird Box” generally pleases — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a creative and effective apocalyptic horror film. A few reviewers call it a “high-concept” horror movie because of its MacGuffin — an invasion of otherworldly beings causes anyone who looks at them to hallucinate and become suicidally depressed. (A handful of survivors escape the chaotic mass suicides because they are lucky enough not to lay eyes on the mysterious, mind-bending creatures which can become images of their victims’ worst fears.)
It’s a hell of a setup — it reminds many people of this year’s “A Quiet Place” and 2008’s unfairly maligned “The Happening.” (Hey, I really liked that movie.) For some reason, “Bird Box” reminded me of the 1985 “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Need to Know.” (It’s a great ep.) And the plot device pays off — “Bird Box” is genuinely unsettling, and the whole story comes across as a blackly inventive end-of-the-world tale.
Sandra Bullock is good here; supporting actors Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich are even better. (Malkovich is mesmerizing whenever he plays an intense or unpleasant character.)
The film suffers somewhat from puzzling pacing problems — sometimes the story appears to be unfolding too quickly, but by the end of the two-hour movie, it feels too long. “Bird Box” was adapted from a structured 2014 novel by Josh Malerman; I strongly get the sense that it tries to squeeze too much of its source material into a the running time for a movie. I honestly think I would have enjoyed it much more if its frightening plot device and interesting, well-played characters were explored in a mini-series.
There’s another disappointment too — we learn very little about the story’s antagonists, beyond one character’s hypothesis that they’re archetypal punishing figures from a number of the world’s religions. I wanted to know more.
Photo credit: vastateparksstaff [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Or is it just more evidence that I have too much time on my hands?
I made a Twitter account a while back with the name “It,” and with a profile picture of the shapeshifting, deadly phantom from “It Follows” (2014).
I’ve tweeted absolutely nothing. But, true to the monster’s modus operandi, I am silently “following” randomly selected people on Twitter.
It’s only horror movie fans, who I think will get the joke, along with various horror websites and directors. I did take care to follow each cast member of the truly superb film itself. It looks like star Daniel Zovatto even followed me back.
Happy Halloween, people.