Film Focus: Pandemic movies


Everyone loves to imagine the apocalypse, and rightfully so, as it can make for some fantastic pieces of fiction. With the Coronavirus carving a path of destruction across China, many are afraid of a global pandemic occurring. This means it’s the perfect time to bunker down and watch a few movies about how this could all play out!

Contagion (2011)

When a businesswoman returns to Minnesota from China she collapses in her home and dies in the hospital. Not long after, her son dies as well, leaving her husband to pick up the pieces and take care of their daughter. Nobody knows what happened or how to respond, but they put the husband under quarantine just to be safe. Meanwhile, a virus spreads across Asia, killing its hosts within a few days and spreading fear just as quickly. The worldwide medical community races to find a cure, or to at least contain it, but it may already be too late.

Contagion is an incredibly gripping and drama packed tale of how a pandemic might actually play out in the twenty-first century. Rather than focus the story on just a couple of characters responding to the virus, it has a large cast of characters encompassing all types of people – grifters, doctors, scientists, normal people, victims, and more. To top that off, they’re all played by great actors – Jude Law, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, among others. Beyond the compelling narrative that truly encompasses the global impact of such a virus, there is much technical prowess on display. From the brilliant editing to the fantastic score, everything is exemplary. Of particular note are the visuals and cinematography. The camera rests on mundane objects – door handles, random people coughing, or a seat on a bus – to show how a virus like this spreads. It’s not sudden, but rather through thousands of little interactions that leave the mark of disease across a country. If you want a realistic-feeling movie about a pandemic, you can’t do much better than Contagion.


28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later is probably best known for rekindling the zombie trend and popularizing fast-paced zombies, but it is much more than just a scary movie about the living dead. It manages to capture the fall of society and the distrust and splintering that would result from such a catastrophic event. The way it is spread is also pretty realistic, as a group of activists attempting to “liberate” caged chimpanzees infected with the virus are set loose upon a vulnerable society. Unlike Contagion, 28 Days Later takes place after the pathogen has done most of the damage and focuses on a small cast of characters navigating the remains of London 28 days following the virus’ release.

Directed by Danny Boyle and starring great actors like Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson, 28 Days Later is clearly a cut above the average zombie film on a technical and artistic level as well. They crew mostly employed the use of digital cameras over film, making it feel just that extra bit grimy and realistic. Early shots of an empty, trash-ridden London are particularly haunting and make great use of the unconventional filming methods. Given the present lack of zombie films being made, Zombieland 2 being a notable exception, 28 Days Later feels all the fresher and more unique. A true crowd-pleasing horror classic that has a fair deal of thematic depth if you look under the surface.


Virus (1980)

Released in 1980 by Battle Royale director Kinji Fukasaku, this Japanese-American production focuses on a group of scientists in Antarctica trying to find a cure to a bio-weapon inadvertently released, wiping out the majority of the world’s population. While it’s probably too long and poorly paced, there is a true lack of hope here that is not present in many other post-apocalyptic films. Even if this group pulls society back from the brink and creates a cure, the world will never be the same. The visuals are sparse and haunting, and one scene of an abandoned street full of bodies will stay with you for a long time. Not the best pandemic film by any means, but a unique and interesting vision of what happens after the world falls.