Pathogen (Emily Hagins, 2006)
[note: review originally published 30Nov2008]
Pathogen is your typical micro-budget zombie movie, except for a few things. The first you will likely notice is that the average age of the cast is much lower than usual, even in the horror film world (where it often seems as if the average age of the actors isn’t much greater than eighteen anyway). Then there’s the gore factor, which is curiously restrained for a movie of this sort. Then there’s the language, which has the same amateur ring to it as most microbudget horror flicks, but, again, has a restraint to it that’s not common, to say the least, in the genre. So you get around to looking it up, and you find that director Emily Hagins made this film when she was twelve years old. So, yeah, something different here.
We open to a news report about a biotechnology company who’s working on a nanotech cure for cancer. Cut to a meeting where Sue (Rebecca Elliott), the head researcher on the project, is being told her funding is being eliminated, and why: instead of curing cancer, the nanotech is going after healthy cells. It quickly becomes obvious where this scene is going, and if this were a typical Hollywood zombiefest, you’d be able to write the next scene yourself without having seen it. But this is not a Hollywood movie, and the next scene gives us the first surprise. It’s not especially subtle, graceful, or anything like that, but it’s there, and that’s what counts. In any case, the nanotech gets into the town’s water supply, and people start getting sick. And worse. A group of middle school students find themselves to be, as far as they can tell, the last living human beings in the city. How to survive against hordes of zombies?
There’s nothing here that will surprise you a great deal in the forest, though some of the trees look decidedly original. And I know that as a reviewer, I’m just supposed to look at this as a movie, but I can’t; how often have you seen a zombie movie directed by a twelve-year-old? Well, yeah, I’ve never seen one either, but I’m relatively certain they’re not supposed to be this good. There’s no deathless cinema experience here, but this is a solid, if exceptionally low-budget, first feature from a director who’s got quite a future in front of her. (Her second film should be out later this year [2013 update: My Sucky Teen Romance has been released in limited form].) Definitely worth looking into if you stumble across a copy. *** 1/2
BONUS trailer for the great documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie, about the making of Pathogen.