Patient Zero is an interesting take on the zombie genre. It starts of very much as a drama, focusing on a small group of main characters and their lives and work in the facility. This is nice as it gives the film a chance to develop their personalities and for the audience to get to know them – a far cry away from the zombie genre’s simple shoot ‘em up tendencies. You actually do care about the characters.
So, from the beginning the film works towards creating a sense of verisimilitude – the primary example being these are not undead zombies, these are infected humans (something that arguably could happen in the real world). This sense of reality is lost slightly by the main character Morgan (played by Matt Smith) who plays the trope of ‘bitten but not a zombie’ and as such can converse with the infected. However, it is easy to look past this as it is done in quite an engaging way.
Unfortunately, this verisimilitude is, for some reason, thrown out the window around just over half way through when the main infected comes into play. The Professor (played by Stanley Tucci) is a more sentient member of the infected, able to think and strategise. The film then takes a gander at philosophy debating which is the more evolved: the infected or the human. This does take the viewer out of the world a little bit, making Patient Zero a bit too weird and stupid, however it is still somewhat interesting. It is once Morgan realises The Professors plan, however, that the film suddenly takes a complete 360 into full on action film. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make a bad action film it’s just such a juxtaposition to the first half that it’s almost like the creators ran out of money and just thought ‘fuck it’. It’s such a shame as the first half of Patient Zero is an engaging and promising start.
That’s not too say it’s a bad film, it just suffers a bit at the end. For starters, the acting is very good, with Natalie Dormer proving herself in particular, in my opinion. Although, it’s just really weird, albeit slightly petty maybe, that they are forced to do American accents. I just don’t see the sense in it – they are underground, they don’t necessarily have to be in America, they are amongst top English talent and yet for some reason have to put on these American accents. It’s not that they’re bad accents, it’s just very strange and unnecessary. But looking past that, yes the acting is good.
Technically-wise there’s not much to complain about. Whilst it looked a little low budget at first it leaned into this by having only a few settings and so managed to make it all look pretty good and realistic for the most part. The infected make-up was great, giving them a different more dishevelled human look to the usual decaying undead.
All-in-all, this was a decent attempt at a great zombie film. If it had stuck in the more realistic direction it was taking in the first half it would have been a lot better. Unfortunately, it got difficult to look past a few flaws before taking the plunge into the action genre. A few rewrites and a bit of tweaking and Patient Zero would’ve been a zombie film to remember.