Sometimes, movies have stories you’ve seen hundreds of times before, yet they have that one original idea that makes the difference, as is the case with Patient Zero from 2018.
Indeed, we all know the premise by heart: global pandemic and humanity at the edge of endurance, perhaps with a group of people inside a lab looking for a cure as in George Romero‘s famous Day of the Dead.
So what’s new? Well, this time, one of the survivors, the young soldier Morgan, can understand and talk to zombies (actually, let’s say infected, since they are still alive), having been infected but without the virus, turning him into a monster.
This virus is a highly contagious variant of rabies, turning each person into a killing machine whose mind is obsessed solely with slaying anyone in the most brutal way possible.
Morgan employs his capacity by interrogating infected people captured by soldiers, trying to find out where the disease began and whether it is possible to find Patient Zero, with whose blood it would possibly find a cure.
So, each day, he plays a detective with the help of a doctor, virologist Gina Rose, and the irascible Colonel Knox, who is extremely skeptical about the project and who would instead prefer to shoot the enemy in the head without many questions.
However, one day, it appears a prisoner much different, able to reason and even control himself, telling them his name was once Jasen and that he was a professor before the infection drove him mad, and he slaughtered his own family.
Thus, they learn the infected outside are mutating and can now organize attacks in a coordinated and intelligent manner, cornering their search for Patient Zero before they inevitably lose the war.
Everything always comes from Romero
I honestly can’t understand why the public (the few who saw this movie in 2018) has been so hard on Patient Zero, criticizing every aspect and idea it tries to convey.
Dull, stupid, boring… I have read all kinds of negative adjectives in almost every critic’s review or free opinions in the comments, apart from really few people who think like me and manage to enjoy this movie for what it is.
Well, then, what is it? It is simply a horror film that is a lot of fun. At the same time, it is clear that director Stefan Ruzowitzky and his crew of technicians and actors had a lot of fun making this homage to the classic zombie genre.
A homage that, as I said before, has no zombie at all: a zombie is a dead person coming back to life as a cannibal, while here, the monsters are still alive but with a virus making them dangerously violent, precisely like in Danny Boyle‘s excellent 28 Days Later.
Amid this idea, we have Matt Smith (one of the most friendly faces of the famous Doctor Who) investigating the virus’s origins by interrogating the monsters as in an episode of CSI, tormenting them with a background of music that the sufferers cannot stand.
Side by side is the story of sex, love, and jealousy with the beautiful Natalie Dormer, a passionate scientist, versus the protagonist’s girlfriend, also infected but with a glimmer of intelligence that can still save her humanity.
In short, it is a lovely soup with sometimes too many ingredients, yet always stays at an excellent high pace and never slackens the tension between the characters, including (as in Romero’s movie) the internal war between the scientists and the dull-witted soldiers on the base.
Low budget, high inspiration
Apart from the noble origins from which Patient Zero draws inspiration, what else can we expect from this 2018 movie?
First of all, like any good low-budget B-grade horror film, there are some excellent scenes with blood and violence, fortunately always moderated by a good dose of humor, somewhat in the style of Evil Dead, but without going as far as Sam Raimi‘s wonderful demented madness.
The action scenes are also of a good standard, where the character of the overbearing colonel, played by Clive Standen, comes out, a friend/enemy we love to hate from the first minutes and will remain stupidly hostile until the end.
On the infected side, there is the monstrously sweet Agyness Deyn, a girlfriend who comforts the tormented protagonist in her own way as she receives his blood daily while partly managing to control the symptoms of the disease.
But the real turning point is when the fantastic Stanley Tucci enters the scene, without detracting from the rest of the cast, but he rises above them all as an actor of a superior class who fills with charisma a character with a somewhat far-fetched story.
Everything changes with the entrance of this character, whose interrogation becomes a thrilling little flashback to his infection and madness.
The various fragments of the story that were a bit unconnected before come back together for an overpowering and entertaining finale with the inevitable bloodbath and no certainty for the future of humanity.
No certainty, however, does not mean that it is a bad ending: the characters will have to keep fighting, and there is still hope, but their lives have become much more complex than they were before because now the enemy is just as cunning as they are, if not perhaps more so.