Pathogen (2006)

Pathogen PosterStarring Tiger Darrow, Rose Kent-McGlew, Alec Herskowitz, Tony Vespe Alex Schroeder, C. Robert Cargill, and Estrella Gonzales

Written, Directed, and Produced by Emily M. Hagins

Released by Cheesy Nuggets Productions

In the world of independent cinema, you never know what you’re going to get. With technology in its current state, it seems that just about anyone with a camera and a bit of gumption can put together a movie, sometimes with disastrous results. Then there are those surprises, gems that come from out of nowhere, that give independent film its heart and soul. Pathogen, the independent film created by a thirteen-year-old auteur named Emily M. Hagins, is just such a gem. In case you haven’t already heard the story, have a look back at our first article about the young film maker.

Pathogen opens up in a quiet Austin, Texas, neighborhood where a young girl named Dannie is having nightmares of some impending apocalypse. Though she can’t remember the specifics, she does know that things are about to get bad, so she shares her fears with her friend Sam. Through some means, the water supply becomes contaminated, killing anyone who drinks from it. To make matters worse, those who’ve died simply refuse to stay dead. In true Romero fashion, the junior high school student and a group of friends attempt to survive through streets filled with the staggering undead. They face off the horrors of their former friends and families who’ve come back to life for one reason: To feed on the flesh of the living.

While the plot may seem standard zombie fare, it does have a few twists of originality that add to the movie’s charm. The source of the pathogen, for one, is more original that many of the so-called blockbusters out there. Also, having a group of junior high-school kids struggle against zombies is not something typically seen. And when was the last time anyone’s seen a cast with maybe one adult in it outside The Goonies? This movie is like the junior high version of Shawn of the Dead.

Although most of the cast, with the exception of Tiger Darrow (who has quite a lengthy resume of professional acting credits), has little acting experience, the actors pull off their parts admirably. Rose Kent McGlew and Alec Herskowitz play well off each other as Danie and Sam, adding the talented Tony Vespe’s “Cameron” (the self-described “dick of the film”) to their group. Adding in good performances by Darrow as Christine, Rebecca Elliott as Sue, and Alex Schreder as the ill-fated Stacy bring together a cast that works very well together. There is even a psycho-kid character, played by Giovanni Ramirez, who manages to steal every scene in which he appears.

Hagins also sets an example for controlling her purse strings in this movie, providing good locations and even some interesting make-up effects on a less-than-shoestring budget. There’s blood-a-plenty in this movie, as well as scenes that will send any horror fan giggling with glee. While some of the zombies look (intentionally) hilarious, others have tasty trauma marks on them in the form of bite wounds and cuts. The special effects may have been inexpensive by Hollywood standards, but Hagins and her crew use them with better style than some of those tensile-town titans. Of particular interest are scenes in which an eyeball is forcibly removed with a knitting needle, zombies are bludgeoned to death with a fireplace poker, and at least one is beheaded with an axe.

Also well done is Hagins’ camera work. We’ve all seen movies with endless static-two shots and close-ups of people’s nostrils, and many would expect to see from a director of Hagins’ age. Not in Pathogen. While there are some rough edges, much of the camera work looks clean and smart. The same can be said for the entirety of the production. There may be some rough spots, but on the whole it looks pretty good. Pretty darned good in fact.

There is one more ingredient that makes this film a winner. It’s neither the cameras nor the editing equipment, the microphones nor the makeup. Watching this movie, audiences get the feeling that everyone involved in this production was proud to be in it. There are no faces here just to get a paycheck or just to get their mug on the camera for a few moments. They’re in the movie because they were proud to be in it, and such dedication shows through on the screen.

The strengths of this movie far outweigh any technical glitches, of which there were surprisingly few. Although this film was seen as a learning experience, many indie film-makers could learn a few things from it. I’m looking forward to the next outing by Emily M. Hagins, as I’m sure she’ll only keep getting better with experience. We may be looking at the future of horror and film.

4 out of 5

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