Patient Zero  (2018)
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Patient Zero (2018)

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The creature feature has been a staple of movies since before the introduction of sound to the experience. The inherent, visceral fear of creatures with the propensity for regarding human beings as prey is firmly retained deep within the most primitive portions of the brain. For this reason, this category of film is frequently among the first that engages the interests of nascent cinephiles. As a boy back in Brooklyn, we would anxiously flock to Saturday afternoon matinees, particularly if the title contained the trigger words, ‘monster,’ creature’ or ‘it; followed by a verb like ‘came, attack’ or destroyed.’ At that time origin of the requisite abomination was inevitably outer space or radiation. That was consistent with the popular hypothesis that science fiction and horror usually derive the source of terror from the potential danger internally part of the latest advances in technology. The fear of radioactive fallout mutating animals into monsters. Today, that sinister role has been transferred to genetic research. The ability to alter the very building blocks of life has provided many with nightmarish horror. An extremely popular monster embraced by all forms of entertainment are zombies, undead creatures lusting for living flesh. A variation of this general theme is found in ‘Patient Zero.’ The creatures in this instance are not animated corpses, but the fundamental mode of infection and proliferation remained close enough for a valid comparison. The first thing about this movie prone to spark interest is the cast. The top three names are all highly recognizable and generally associated with exceptional performances, Natalie Dormer, Matt Smith, and Stanley Tucci. It might help to consider the blatant shortcomings of the movie regarding relatable experiences. No matter how well you perform me your career, you are bound to have a project or assignment that doesn’t succeed no matter how much effort you put into it. Despite the undeniable abilities of these actors, it was an insurmountable task to overcome the deficits in this movie.

Sometime before the opening of this story, a nutation of the rabies virus occurred drastically increasing the virulence greatly enhancing its ability to transfer between animals and humans. Matters were made exponentially worse as the virus is now easily transmitted between people. What had been a relatively uncommon infection, less than 18,000 human deaths globally per year to a pandemic that brought humanity to the precipice of eradication. The most notable symptom of a propensity for violent outbursts escalated to reducing the infected to animalistic creatures entirely driven by rage. The virus takes effect 90 seconds after a bite a modicum of cognizance including retaining rudimentary communication, albeit utilizing their primitive language indecipherable to people. Fortunately, there is a victim with a remarkably unique reaction. Morgan (Matt Smith), was bitten but miraculously retained his intelligence as well communicating with the infected; this made interrogating captive infected possible. That was deemed crucial to identify and locate the initial vector of the unbroken, the eponymous patient zero. In typical fashion for a science fiction movie post-1950’s, the military is at odds with the leading scientist. An antagonistic dynamic between military and scientist is relatively new in movies of this genre. During the golden age of danger emanating from the latest technological breakthrough or the unbridled potential for annulation on a global scale seen in nature, the fifties usually depicted a substantial spirit of cooperation. In this story, the Army officer in charge, Colonel Knox (Clive Standen). Is openly resentful of the concession his was ordering him to assist the lead searcher, CDC virologist Dr. Gina Rose (Natalie Dormer). It is her considered, expert opinion that the only hope for the remnant of humanity, is to locate the source of the mutated infectious agent, Patient Zero, and through a detailed analysis of his blood, develop a vaccine and hopefully a cure. The most promising means to accomplish this depends on Morgan (Matt Smith), who as noted above was bitten but retained his cognitive abilities as well as the unique ability to communicate with the infected. The Colonel prefers a straightforward approach to the destruction of violent carriers.

The work is slow, tedious and, resulting from a lack of significant progress, frustrating. When an infected is captured alive, much to the chagrin of Colonel Knox, it is isolated in a secure, observation room. There, Morgan enters and attempts to establish communication. The infected are always reluctant, but one symptom is a greatly agitated reaction to music. Admittedly, it was a nice touch that the source of the offending music was a turntable and vinyl record. Admittedly it makes little sense to use this outdated, analog device but for us Baby Boomers it was a slice of our personal history, harkening back to simpler times. Undoubtedly, a contributing factor to the slow progress involves the soap opera-like romantic contrivances complicating the working environment. Morgan had been infected when attacked along with his wife, Janet (Agyness Deyn), although infected, most of her symptoms were partially managed through experimental treatments developed by Dr. Rose. Although Morgan still loves his not quite dead wife, a man has biological needs. He has been engaging in a sexual relationship with Gina. Keeping with the soap opera affectations, Dr. Rose had previously been in a relationship with Colonel Knox, with the breakup not accepted by the still infatuated officer. Adding yet another layer of over-complication, Gina Is pregnant. Janet was always anxious to start a family, but Morgan resisted. Understandably this manifested in his lingering resentment of Morgan. Within the context of a relatively brief movie, the sum effect is to complicate the narrative overly. A creature feature frequently includes a modicum of human-interest drama but never to the pervasive degree manifested here. A defining characteristic of the creature feature is in its simplicity. That is a substantial reason why it is often among the first film genres to captivate the burgeoning cinephile during those all-important formative, pre-teen years.

Most of the side drama is established to at least an initial degree when a fresh subject (Stanley Tucci), is brought in to the make-shift laboratory. Initially, there is nothing out of the usual with Morgan lackadaisically beginning the questioning expecting the typical non-response. As per the protocol, when the subject remained non-responsive, Morgan puts a record on the turntable, leaving for the observation area. Much to his shock, the subject sits back, lights a cigarette and enjoys the music. Morgan and the doctor are astonished, not only that the subject was unaffected by the sounds but that he decided to have a smoke. Once the circumstances sank in, Morgan was able to have a conversation, beyond the usual rudimentary interrogation.as it turns out before an infection he was a university professor. He was brought in with a group of infected presumed dead until he revealed he was still alive and demanded to be brought to the human ability to communicate with them. Morgan and Gina jump to the conclusion that the Professor must be the elusive patient Zero until his backstory is elucidated. He had been teaching a class when the school was overrun, and he was bitten. He turned but like Morgan, retaining much of his human cognitive functions. Through further discussion, he informs Morgan that the infected are more evolved, a greatly advanced species who are at the top of the food chain. Among the infected dead brought in to the facility was implanted with a transmitted providing the organized infected with the precise location of the military base. No one had expected the infected of being capable of a Trojan Horse style tactic for infiltration.

The main theme of the story is dependent upon a twist in a venerable plot device, where the invading creatures are acting on their moral perspective. Of course, this is predicated on the premise that the audience must be able to muster an iota sympathy for both sides. Unless the audience is composed of a conference of debating team champions, this is an unrealistic expectation by the producers. Again the observation supports the assignment of the genre’s primary motivation as inherently simplistic, readily available for a pre-teen audience. That crucial demographic requires a simplistic narrative consisting of a scant framework to provide an excuse for the focus of the movie, action. The requisite battle between the creature and the forces determined to protect humanity is woefully absent. Had this film been re-edited, targeting a decidedly more mature demographic resulting in a strong ‘R’ rating this potentially could have permitted greater elucidation of the ancillary plot contrivances to better solidify the story as character driven rather than attempting to sell it as a science fiction/horror flick. As it is, the film fails to live up to even the most rudimentary elements of its potential.

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Posted   10/29/2018

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