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Plague
(1979)

Director: Ed Hunt
Cast:
Daniel Pilon, Kate Reid, Celine Lomez


As I am writing this review, it is March 21, 2020 in the city of Victoria, which is in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Although I am managing to go on day after day, lately it's been becoming a real hassle. If you are reading this review just after it was put up on my website - or reading it much later but remembering what the world was like at that particular time - I am sure you know what the main hassle is in my life. Of course, I am talking about COVID-19, also known as the Corona virus disease of 2019. Not that long ago, the virus reached my city, and it slowly made it very difficult for people in my city and the surrounding area. Certainly, the main problem coming from the virus is how it's making people very ill; as of a news story that I read online today, twenty-two people in Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island have been confirmed to have caught the virus, and there has been at least one death in my area ever since the virus reached the island. I have been lucky so far to have avoided catching the virus, but all the same its impact has greatly affected my life and the lives of others in my city. Just about every restaurant seems to be closed, and the few that are open are banning people from eating in their dining areas. The local transit system has cut back the frequency of buses on every main bus route. Supermarkets are open, but their selection of key items like pasta, rice, soup, and canned vegetables and fruit are gone or almost gone. They are also running short on toilet paper, which is what I'm finding at pharmacies as well. The pharmacies are experiencing a lot of demand for prescription drugs, which means long lines and long waits.

One personal problem I'm having is that the job where I work has suspended operations for the time being, meaning I'm stuck at home twiddling my thumbs a lot of the time when I am not watching unknown movies. Despite all these things happening, I do realize that the situation could be a lot grimmer. I have heard from some reports that just about the only people who should fear COVID-19 are the elderly and people with low immune systems. But on the other hand, I have heard reports coming from Italy concerning how the virus is running seemingly rampant. What to think of those two reports? I'm not sure, though even if the virus is proving dangerous for people like me, I still think that we could be a lot more worse off. There have been a number of times in the past where pandemics were more deadly. For example, take the case of The Black Death, which I am very sure you have heard of. When it first made its introduction in Europe around the mid fourteenth century, estimates are that it killed thirty to sixty percent of the population, and for the next few hundred years popped up again every so often. A more recent example of a pandemic happed in 1918, when the Spanish flu spread all over the world. After two years, it had managed to generate a death toll of at least 50 million people - possibly even getting up to killing 100 million people. All that may make our present situation seem like small potatoes, but one thing that human history has told us is that there have always been pandemics on one degree or another. I am sure that in future years more pandemics will break out.

In fact, I am very sure that someday in the future there will be a new pandemic that's on the scale of The Black Death or the Spanish flu, even with all the advances in medicine we have made. Anyway, with this present pandemic causing all sorts of chaos, I wanted to review a movie concerning Plaguepandemics in order to remind readers now and in the future to prepare for the inevitable and to support research concerning the elimination of various diseases. As you probably guessed, I very well can't review the movies Outbreak and Contagion, two movies being presently heavily watched on Netflix, because they are too well known for this website. And in the past I reviewed The Carrier and Carriers, so it would be foolish to review them again. But then I remembered from my teenage years watching part of the Canadian pandemic tax shelter movie Plague. I found out that it's never been released on VHS or DVD in North America, probably because its present copyright owner for some reason is turning down every offer for video releases of the movies it owns. Fortunately, there is something known as the Internet, and a quick search of YouTube revealed someone had posted the movie there. (If you want to watch the movie for yourself, I have provided a link to this YouTube video at the bottom of this web page.) The plot: Somewhere in Canada is a research laboratory, with one of its scientists being a woman named Dr. Celia Graham (Brenda Donohue). Without authorization from the lead scientists in the laboratory, Graham starts to develop a new kind of bacteria from a batch named M3 the laboratory has already concocted. You guessed it - there is an accident in the laboratory that not only has the bacteria kill Graham in quick notice, but the bacteria gets out of the laboratory building by the ventilation system. Soon the bacteria starts to spread further and further away from the building, one reason being that an infected woman named Margo (Lomez, The Silent Partner) fleeing from custody imposed by the authorities in the local government, starts being another Typhoid Mary. The director of the laboratory, Dr. Jessica Morgan (Reid, Death Ship), and her partner Dr. Bill Fuller (Pilon, The Assignment) know that it's up to them to find some kind of cure.

Like most Canadian movies back then and today, Plague was saddled with a low budget, a little more than half a million Canadian dollars. Still, a lot of filmmakers use low budgets as an excuse to push themselves to more reachable aspects, such as with good scripting and colorful acting. The script for this movie does indeed have a few good things worth mentioning. For one thing, it illustrates very believably how a deadly disease, once it starts to infect mankind, can spread very quickly in this modern world of ours, from face to face contact to people travelling to other countries via jet aircraft or other means. Not only do we sense how rapidly a disease can spread, we also see that it's difficult to near impossible to stop it. I appreciated this honesty, and I also appreciated that the end of the movie (which I won't reveal) shows that the aftermath of a deadly disease can produce just as many bad consequences as the disease itself. However, the remainder of this story isn't up to those two positive attributes. The science of the movie either leans towards touches that you won't feel are scientifically accurate (Dr. Graham just pours the test tube contents of one test tube into the contents of another test tube, and presto, the infectious disease), or use a lot of scientific language that the average viewers simply won't be able to understand or follow. The leadership of the situation is also unsatisfying. While I guess I could believe how the authorities are mighty slow to announce the grave situation to the public and make declarations (this happened in China, remember), we are led to believe that at the laboratory only Dr. Graham is working directly on a cure. It's eventually revealed that people at another laboratory are working on a cure, but this is barely touched on, so it seems it just comes out of the blue for the sake of making sure the movie moves.

But as it turns out, Plague doesn't move speedily enough. While the first third of the movie moves along at a fairly acceptable pace, after that point the movie starts to really slow down, at times bringing things to a halt for significant periods. Part of the reason is that there is quite a bit of padding. The subplot about Margo fleeing from custody and trying to not get caught just goes on and on with nothing really of consequence happening, and it ends on a note that practically screams that Margo was never needed except to extend the running time. Multiple scenes back in the laboratory unfold with little to no progress made by the characters. Since director Ed Hunt (Bloody Birthday) also co-wrote the screenplay, I feel he has to take the blame for the sluggish feel. Hunt does show some talent in the director's chair for this movie. For starters, he does, unlike many Canadian filmmakers, definitely set the movie in Canada, such as having Canadian money clearly seen. In a few places he shows some effective camerawork (as in the subway station sequences) that momentarily add a little zip. Also, I can't really blame him for the outcome for being forced to work with a tight budget, even though it leads to laboratories looking like a high school classroom and having flimsy doors to the outside hallways, fire extinguishers used as "chemical spray" by authorities to kill the bacteria, and obvious use of stock footage. However, Hunt stumbles in a big way that consequently makes it hard for the viewer to get involved with the story. Hunt simply doesn't make the movie tense or frightening. With a plot like this one, there should be a feeling of things going out of control at a breakneck speed while tragedy rears its head over and over. But as I pointed out before, the movie moves slowly and has a pretty casual attitude for the most part. It doesn't help that when there is a death in the movie, Bell has strident music playing with the sight of convulsing bodies. It would have been more effective in my opinion had the dying victims been shown silently; it would have been realistic, and the horror of it would have sunk in more.

There is another reason why it's hard to get involved with the horror that goes on in Plague, one that is related to those script problems I discussed earlier. None of the characters in the movie are written to be particularly interesting or insightful. We learn that Dr. Fuller has a wife and a child (seen in a pretty useless subplot), and that Dr. Fuller is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease. That's about all we learn of him. Why did he participate in the laboratory's illegal bacteria experiments? Why does he take it upon himself to find a cure? We don't get answers to questions like those. It's also not explained as to why the character of Margo suddenly decides to break out of custody and go on the run, let alone what her ultimate plans are while she's a fugitive. The remainder of the characters who have some input in the story are equal in their shallow writing. As a result of this, most of the cast understandably give unsure performances, and they don't generate any personality. That is, except for actress Kate Reid as the laboratory director Dr. Jessica Morgan. Her performance is somewhat hard to describe, but I will say that despite her limited dialogue she always manages to give her character the impression of knowledge and authority. Every time that she shows up in the movie, she grabs the viewers' attention and makes even the most banal dialogue interesting. If this character had been more under the microscope, I think Plague would have been a lot better, though I am not sure it would have been enough to save the movie considering all the aforementioned flaws I listed. How bad is this movie as it is? Well, practically all the product plugs the producers were able to arrange to be showcased in the movie were for Air Canada and the Mr. Submarine sandwich restaurant chain. If you're Canadian like I am, you'll know as I do that is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

(Posted April 4, 2020)

Click here to watch the movie on YouTube

See also: The Carrier, Carriers, No Blade Of Grass

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