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.