*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***
In rural Venezuela, widowed doctor Adam (Rubén Guevara) suddenly finds himself in a fight for survival as a mutated rabies virus outbreak turns the afflicted into drooling, bloodthirsty psychopaths. As the disease spreads, it threatens the overwhelm not only the surrounding towns but the entire country.
Adam and his friendly neighbour Johnny (Leonidas Urbina) face an increasingly perilous journey to find somewhere safe. For Adam, this is made all the more complicated by the need to get to his son – who has gone to stay with his in-laws – before either the virus or the increasing numbers of the infected…
At this time, viewing and reviewing a movie about a pandemic might seem an odd choice but I’m here for you folks and I’m happy to do this. And if these films are as gripping and impressive as Infection turned out to be, I’m even happier.
Horror often brings catharsis through experiencing extreme situations from the safety of your armchair. The best examples also provide insights into the workings of the human mind, especially the whole “fight or flight” response. Flavio Pedota’s assured piece of work not only gives us those things but sprinkles brilliantly shot, kinetic scenes of escalating mayhem into a tale which packs a powerful emotional punch while still managing to keep an eye on the wider political and medical issues.
In the lead roles, Guevara and Urbina prove to be a winning double act, setting up their friendship in a lovely, warm early scene in which Johnny, knowing Adam’s having a hard time being on his own, invites him over for soup. This not only gives the viewer two everyman protagonists to really root for, it also lays the foundations for their quest to make it through the chaos together. Make no mistake, I was with them every bloody step of the way.
It would be easy, not to mention lazy, of me to say that this is Contagion meets a slew of zombie films and this does cleave to both the pandemic and undead templates but it’s so much more than that. Using our heroes’ episodic struggles as an indicator of the wider breakdown of an entire society, this may touch upon many familiar themes but these are dealt with in a way that still seems fresh somehow.
With its grimy opening scene of intravenous drug taking gone horribly wrong and the introduction of a character who’s still reeling from the loss of his wife, this eschews the brash action-adventure route it could have taken and instead lays out a sobering, sombre tale of a society which wakes up far too late to the true devastation of the situation in which it finds itself. I’m not going to go into a long discussion about how prescient this is but the parallels are there.
And yet, there’s always a glimmer of hope poking through the clouds of doom which hang over the story, which makes it all the more downbeat when a horde of slavering, toxic maniacs attack the pleasant, everyday folk who are just trying to exist in an increasingly confused and frightening world. The gore is kept to a discreet but effective level too, as characters you’ve just got to know are heartbreakingly and brutally dispatched in the blink of an eye.
Yes, the inclusion of the inevitable military operation and the trials of Australian scientist Lucy (played by Genna Chanelle Hayes) to find an effective vaccine are more broadly sketched than the main plot and skirt the epidemic disaster clichés the main thrust of the film avoids for the most part. However, even these elements contain their own pleasing little wrinkles and surprises. It’s when the film briefly switches to English dialogue – in the exchanges between Adam and Lucy – that it stumbles ever so slightly but these interludes don’t do Infection any lasting harm.
The final third of the movie doesn’t let up one little bit in terms of raising the stakes and ramping up the tension, culminating in a shockingly abrupt, bold climax which then allows a few agonising, drawn-out seconds for the “WTF?” sensation to kick in. The closing scenes may be slightly at odds in terms of tone with what’s gone before but they’re fully earned and, in any case, Infection hasn’t quite done with you yet.
Stay around for the mid-credits stinger of the aftermath, which features reportage from both Venezuela and the surrounding countries, dispensing one final, chilling reminder that for as many people who want to help there are others who will want absolutely nothing to do with it because it’s something that happens to foreigners.
Infection is terrific addition to the genre. It’s not always the easiest of watches but it points up the strength of the human spirit even in the worst of times while making the salient point that a great many of us have an awful lot to learn. It’s also great to see horror movies this accomplished being produced all around the world. Flavio Pedota, his cast and crew should be rightly proud of their achievements and it would be a shame if the film’s content put off potential viewers in the current climate. I’d heartily recommend you track this one down, it’s excellent.