With Ireland currently being encouraged to stay home and switch on Netflix (chilling optional), here at HeadStuff we figured we would only be doing our national duty in bringing you some movie recommendations. With the unsurprising news that medical thrillers like Contagion and Outbreak are suddenly in vogue, our writers put their heads together (not too close, mind you) to bring you a pandemic film list to check out.
Viruses can run rampant, as can celebrity obsession. For his debut, Brandon Cronenberg, son of horror legend David, merged the two topics – proving the deformed grotesque rotting apple doesn’t fall too far from the deformed grotesque rotting tree.
Get Out and Three Billboard’s Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd March, an employee for a company who buy viruses from celebrities who fall ill. This is in order to inject them into clients who will pay to have a connection with the stars. March is also running a side hustle, however, infecting himself with the pathogens and selling them onto a third party. When he uses his body as an incubator for a mysterious virus that kills a superstar, he falls deathly sick and into a conspiracy.
Set in a world where fans can also have samples of celebrities’ skin grafted to their bodies or eat steaks cultivated from their cells, Antiviral is a truly twisted neo-noir, one which blends moments of gross out horror with satirical social commentary. It’s disturbing yet strangely satisfying to witness the minimalist, muted, oppressive colour palettes and environments become increasingly flecked with blood and viscera as the movie progresses. Yet, what truly disturbs is the realisation that Syd’s actions, which kick start the plot, may not be monetarily motivated, with the film asking: ‘How far would someone go for connection?’ Stephen Porzio
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)
Birdemic is unquestionably a pandemic film for a bad movies night. Think somewhere along the lines of The Room but with a socially conscious message. Written, directed, and produced by James Nguyen, it focuses on a blossoming romance between a young man and woman which is rudely interrupted by the entrance of a number of eagles and vultures infected, we learn, by “bird flu virus,” that begin to attack the town.
Yes, Birdemic is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s The Birds and wears that badge proudly. Indeed, Tippi Hedren makes an appearance on a television during the action – and in fact, she also acted in one of Nguyen’s previous films. Featuring cringe-inducing and often hilarious dialogue, woeful CGI and some very on-the-nose messaging, Birdemic is likely to give you a lot of laughs, and for that reason alone it might just be worth adding to your watchlist. It probably goes without saying that subtle Birdemic ain’t: at one point the couple go on a date to see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. On the other hand, all things considered, maybe subtlety isn’t what we need right now… Sarah Cullen
Not as famous or well-respected as the book it’s based upon, yet still solid, Blindness is Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s novel of the same name. Mark Ruffalo plays a doctor who treats a patient that inexplicably and suddenly goes blind. Later that day, he and many of the population similarly lose their sight, before being herded into quarantine zones. Despite being unaffected by the disease, the doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore) follows her husband to the derelict asylum where some of the blind are kept.
Blindness is a tough movie detailing the type of societal breakdown that could occur under these circumstances. Things go from bad to worse as the soldiers assigned to guard the asylum become infected, food stops being delivered and an armed lunatic (Gael Garcia Bernal), aided by a man blind from birth (Maury Chaykin) and thus better equipped, take over.
Viewers will be grimly gripped or put off by Blindness‘s intentionally unpleasant sections depicting a society in chaos, including the gun-wielding self-appointed ‘king’ forcing women to have sex with him and his men in exchange for food. Either way, those looking for uplifting content to watch during the Coronavirus lockdown might want to give Meirelles’ film a miss: the only possible positive takeaway from it being at least we have our sight. Stephen Porzio
With this current outbreak of COVID-19 shaking the Earth to its very core, there is no movie more relevant and terrifying than Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film. Eerily similar to the outbreak of Coronavirus, Contagion follows a number of characters involved with the CDC and WHO as they attempt to combat a devastating virus that is infecting mass amounts of people and, subsequently, killing thousands every day as it becomes a worldwide pandemic.
Contagion is truly terrifying stuff in light of recent events. Soderbergh’s disease-focused thriller is nailbiting to watch unfold with an always developing plot you just can’t take your weary eyes off of. The director delves deep into the medical side of things as humanely possible with a number of solid performances coming from Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne to name but a few in the stacked cast.
Contagion is an extremely well-made movie. Yet, its current relevance is haunting and hugely informative, with the film illustrating the nefarious effects of macro-level decision making and political influence in these horrifying situations. It’s the type of movie to not only terrify viewers but inform them respectfully of what can and will most likely happen during a pandemic. John Hogan
Masayuki Ochiai’s Infection (or Kansen in its native Japan) is a masterclass in atmosphere and unsettling panic. Centered around one doctor’s mistake, this horror accounts the devastating consequences of miscalculation and widespread infection. Ochiai focuses on the stress of an understaffed hospital and the every day pressure its staff are subjected to while still attempting to provide the correct medical analysis and decision making to ensure the safety of others. The truth is one bad decision can change everything.
Infection takes this concept and pushes it deep into the J-Horror template that has excited and scared audiences over and over again. As events progress, Infection becomes a tale of sensory madness that will get under viewers’ skin and have them questioning what that weird rash could be that has formed completely out of nowhere. With every itch and scratch audiences will find themselves becoming consumed by this panic and fearing the worst. This is what makes the movie such a formidable watch and during this current outbreak of COVID-19, Infection will shake you to your very core as you question everything around you. John Hogan
David Cronenberg is the king of body horror, or ‘venereal horror’ as some aficionados prefer to call it, with an uncanny ability of taking the idea of the body being assaulted, abused and transformed to terrifying new heights: The Fly (1986) being a shining example of this. Rabid, one of Cronenberg’s earliest horror efforts, manages to perfectly sum up the fear COVID-19 has induced 43 years later.
Rabid tells the story of a young woman named Rose (Marilyn Chambers) who is injured in a severe motorcycle accident. She receives emergency medical treatment only to find that when she awakens from her prolonged slumber, she has developed some sort of phallic stinger in her armpit. With it comes an insatiable lust to infect all who surround her.
Rabid takes the idea of mass infection into sleazy B-movie territory with a focus on unsettling body transformations and zombie-like horror that remains impressive and more relevant than ever. While a fun watch, Cronenberg underlines the film with important messages about the speed of infection and the consequences of societal interaction during an outbreak. Sometimes ludicrous but completely compelling from start to finish, Rabid’s depiction of a shoot-to-kill policy regarding infected persons is a terrifying statement on social depravity and is something that doesn’t seem that unbelievable when all is said and done. John Hogan
The Similars (2015)
This Mexican infection horror/comedy/sci-fi (Los Parecidos in the original Spanish) is one where the twists are so thrilling to experience that I really would just urge you to watch the movie rather than read this blurb. Eight strangers find themselves stuck in a bus station together, turning on each other with increasing violence as an infection spreads among them. The twist: the infection makes them all look like the first stranger to arrive, a bearded young man. They each becomes terrified as beards sprout on their faces and their noses bend into a roman shape. Is he somehow replicating himself? Is it a mass hallucination? A government plot?
The film might sometimes just play like a series of schlocky twists. But there’s a real human fear at the heart of it that I think we’re all experiencing. How sickness can alter you, in a way that feels like an invasion of your identity. And how, in a pandemic, you are all being infected by a basically identical organism – becoming a host for a rigidly uniform thing that demands submission from every body it encounters. And finally – can a virus get large enough that we stop noticing it as a separate thing and simply accept it as the new ‘normal’?