Back in 2002 when Danny Boyle’s drop-dead awesome 28 Days Later hit the horror scene, it ushered in a whole new topic of conversation among genre fans. As a collective antagonist, the “rage infected” individual is not exactly the same as a “zombie” for one key reason: the infected person is not dead, while of course, the zombie is.
This key deviation from established zombie lore is a fascinating one because it makes the victims all the more tragic: zombies are beyond reason, logic, and the ability to feel pain, whereas the “rage infected” human (which one can also find rampaging through movies like Rabid, 28 Weeks Later, [REC], Quarantine, and both versions of The Crazies) is forced to deal with all sorts of biological horrors while also being (at least) partially aware of their imminent demise.
And that brings us to Patient Zero, which is to 28 Days Later‘s “rage virus” concept what hundreds of mostly forgettable zombie flicks are to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. This is a weird, atonal, and plainly compromised horror flick, but it does boast a few amusing tidbits tucked in amongst the clunky character development and thoroughly disjointed story structure. Truth be told, it often feels like large sections of the flick were just pulled out in an effort to keep the momentum flowing — without seeming to worry about what those trims do to the whole of the plot, which is this:
A small pocket of humanity hides deep inside an underground bunker while the aforementioned rage virus runs rampant on the surface. But just like in Day of the Dead, there is a group of soldiers and scientists who study some of the infected to see if they can’t find a cure. One of the soldiers (“Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith) is able to communicate with the raving infected, while both of the scientists (Natalie Dormer and John Bradley) are played by actors who were clearly on hiatus from “Game of Thrones”. Normally the infected are wildly feral and inarticulate, but then Stanley Tucci shows up as an afflicted college professor who’s both crazily violent and also annoyingly talkative.
Is this the “patient zero” that our weird hero is seeking for? Maybe. All that matters is that the infected are on their way, and they might not be as “mindless” as previously believed.
Patient Zero plays like it started out as something considerably more interesting (and decidedly less derivative) than what we get in the final product. There are odd little moments and character beats that feel like remnants from a much longer movie; there’s next to nothing in world-building or character development, and the whole third act is confusing series of chases and attacks that are fun in the moment but don’t add up to all that much.
Fans of the three lead actors or anything related to zombie-adjacent cinema could maybe give Patient Zero a spin once it hits Netflix but, despite a few fun moments here and there, Patient Zero feels like someone tried to make their own unofficial 28 Days Later sequel, kinda screwed up somewhere along the line, and salvaged what they could. It’s kind of a mess but at least it’s not boring.