Who could have imagined, when we entered 2020, that we’d be encouraged by our bosses to work from home, covetously stockpile pasta and anything in a jar, and get snippy with strangers over the last toilet roll in the supermarket? Or, indeed, that watching pandemic movies would suddenly become the next big thing?
But then we hadn’t anticipated the global spread of coronavirus, resulting in nationwide lockdowns, self-isolation for the sick and at-risk, and entertainment venues being shut indefinitely.
As a result, there’s been a resurgence of interest in pandemic-themed films, with people finding cathartic release in seeing their anxieties play out onscreen. But don’t take these depictions of social collapse, martial law, and apocalypse too seriously – they’re enjoyably exaggerated entertainments, mostly skimping on scientific facts.
Every cloud has a silver lining; it seems. Steven Soderbergh’s medical thriller Contagion, released in 2011, raced back up the iTunes charts to take a Top Ten position this month, helped no doubt by the film’s parallels with the current outbreak of coronavirus. This fast-paced thriller charts the rapid transmission of a virus across the globe as scientists hurry to find a vaccine and social order disintegrates.
Despite being a Hollywood thriller, this breathless multi-perspective narrative has been described as ultra-realistic – informed by the World Health Organisation and praised for its accurate depiction of a pandemic by scientists. It’s also got a Hollywood cast to make you weak at the knees – Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon – but seeing Paltrow catch the flu on film couldn’t have inspired confidence in her wellness brand, Goop.
Five years after George A. Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, he gave us another film about human contagion – The Crazies. When a military plane carrying an untested bio-weapon crashes in the hills of a nearby American town, their water supply becomes contaminated, causing residents to die or become homicidal. The government draft in the military to quash the spread of the disease, given instructions to shoot on sight.
The film’s low-budget quality heightens the terrible shocks as families retaliate against the hazmat-clad military while additionally fending off the violence-prone citizens. Starring Will McMillan and Jane Carroll, it’s a believable scenario executed with extreme flourishes. Failing to make an impact on its initial release, it’s now a cult classic with a 2010 remake starring Timothy Olyphant.
Outbreak gave monkeys a lousy name way before the rage-plagued primate in 28 Days Later. Opening in Zaire, Africa, a fictional disease called Motaba spreads to California after an infected capuchin monkey is smuggled into the country. The disease develops into a strain of influenza, and the small town of Cedar Creeks is placed under martial law as the infection rapidly spreads.
Although based on Richard Preston’s nonfiction book The Hot Zone, the film takes plenty of grand liberties in the name of cinematic heroics – this is a Hollywood pandemic through and through. But it entertains with a talented cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Rene Russo. There’s also an iconic scene in a movie theatre that, were they not already closed, would make you think twice before visiting the multiplex.
Did someone know something we didn’t? There were two monkey-related pandemic flicks in 1995, this one from Terry Gilliam. Twelve Monkeys is a dystopian sci-fi fantasy set in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia in 2035. As most of humanity was wiped out by a virus in 1996, Earth’s remaining inhabitants live underground. Bruce Willis is Cole, a convict who volunteers to go back in time in the hope of reducing his sentence and finding the cause of the virus. But the past proves more bewildering than the future.
Gilliam-esque camera angles and stunning production design are impressive, particularly a desolate Philly overrun by animals. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt bagged his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as Jeffrey Goines: inmate and leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. It’s an atypical performance that’s thoroughly engrossing, all nervous tics and a crazed glint in his eyes.
I Am Legend
Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend has spawned three adaptations. Last Man on Earth was the first – starring horror legend Vincent Price – followed by The Omega Man in 1971 and the titular Will Smith blockbuster in 2007. The 1964 version is arguably the best. It revolves around the monotonous routine of Doctor Robert Morgan who, in the wake of a virulent plague, is left the last human alive.
Although somewhat dated and low-budget, it’s an evocative portrayal of crushing loneliness, with Morgan patrolling the streets during the day to kill the infected undead, only to return home alone at night to barricade himself against the vengeful hordes.
( Source: Techradar)