September 17, 2018 Epidemic (Movie Review)
An estranged father and daughter’s troubles escalate to contagious levels in Epidemic, which arrived to DVD/VOD on September 4, 2018, thanks to Breaking Glass Pictures.
Today is the big day: Dana Overbeck’s (Amanda K. Morales: Dagger Kiss series, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House 2016) 30th birthday party! As many husbands do, Mike (Joe Walz: Parapsychology 101 2012, Static short 2016) has hidden her birthday present at his best friend’s house. So, while Dana is prettying herself for the big night, Mike has snuck off to see his best friend Troy (Marquis Valdez: The Reunion short 2017, Single & Anxious series). Oddly, when Troy sends his girlfriend Mandi (Gina Destra: Trading Spaces series, Split 2016) into the basement to retrieve the hidden gift, she discovers much more than she bargained for: a secret, hidden room in the basement of their brand-new home.
Back at home, Dana is anxious over the arrival of her estranged, alcoholic father, Rufus (Andrew Hunsicker: House of Cards series, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History series), who, despite his nagging wife Claudia (Shelley Brietling: Cheat-hos: A Political Comedy 2015, 2 Shots short 2016), is en-route to the party. However, the party is quick to start without him when Mandi and Troy show up, along with stoner neighbor James (Grant Behmke in his acting debut) – who leaves almost immediately to watch Murder She Wrote with his meemaw.
Unfortunately, long before the party can ever really hit its stride, Mandi ends up feeling ill and starts projectile vomiting all over everyone. She and Troy quickly hide themselves in an upstairs bathroom, but when Mike goes to check on the pair, it will all spiral downhill very quickly. Pray tell, does daddy ever make it to the party?
Clocking in at 71 minutes in-length, Epidemic was directed by Stephen Michael Giglio (Go West 2010) and written by Giglio and Adam Romanchik. Billed as a blend of “coming-of-age Drama” and Horror, in truth, Epidemic reads like a cross between a Lifetime Original and a SyFy Original, which is to say that it is pretty awful no matter how you slice it.
The major issue with Epidemic is its script, which is torn between the story of an estranged father and daughter, and the tale of a deadly contagion mysteriously leaked from a suburban basement; so, this is a film that is trying to be a Family Drama crossed with a Sci-Fi/Horror blend. Strange, at best, but none of it is fleshed out enough to ever be intriguing for the viewer. Why Rufus and Dana are estranged is never clearly stated, though we are left to assume that his alcoholism certainly played a big part in their family issues.
As for the Horror portion of the tale, that is kind of a mess, as well: a million puzzle pieces are laid out to suggest a private research company’s involvement in creating the deathly agent, but nothing is ever clarified to make that layer of the story solidly believable. In fact, why such a ghastly pathogen is sitting around in an old perfume bottle in someone’s basement is beyond all comprehension.
Worse yet, this all goes by at such a fast clip that we never truly have the time to become emotionally invested in any of these characters and their well being. Mandi and Troy are introduced and shown to be nothing more than annoying: Troy a macho-type who expects his girlfriend to wait on him hand and foot, Mandi too dumb to say no. Mike’s character is given even less development, and all we really know about Dana is that she is turning 30 and she and daddy are at odds.
When people start coughing and vomiting and developing bloody pustules on their faces, there is absolutely nothing there to make the viewer truly feel for their situation. Yeah, it sucks to be mysteriously ill, but why should we invest ourselves into these particular characters? It’s akin to watching a stranger suffer from the flu: human decency makes you feel empathetic, but that’s about it. The tension that is built in a truly great Sci-Fi Thriller never develops here: there is no great desire to find a cure, just a hope for a swift ending.
Unfortunately, due to the script’s multitude of gaping weaknesses, the cast are not given much to work with here. Morales (Dana) and Hunsicker (Rufus) are given the most material, but it’s not much; and Hunsicker wavers between underacting and overacting in his scenes, while Morales does much of the same. In one scene, where she is supposed to be hysterical over the loss of her beloved, Morales is so reserved as to be entirely unmoving. In all fairness, it is hard to fairly assess either Valdez or Destra’s acting chops, as their characters are utterly useless, ditto Walz’ Mike. Brietling’s Claudia might be the most well-rounded character in the batch and, in turn, she does a fair job of portraying the woman who initially appears selfish and nagging, but ultimately proves to have more facets to her personality.
It should be noted that Epidemic is proud to have been made in Pennsylvania, shooting on location in Chesterbrook, Allentown, Bethlehem, and Philadelphia. If you’re from Pennsyltucky, it’s a nice touch to see some “hometown” pride, but it sadly cannot save this sinking ship. However, there is one positive in all of this mess: the closing credit sequence is set to a truly catchy original EDM/Synthpop track, “Involuntary,” by Corey TuT. So, there’s that!
Bottomline, the major issue with Epidemic is that it has no idea what kind of story it wishes to be: a dramatic, emotional tale of an estranged father and daughter, or the Sci-Fi-dusted tale of a contagion that escapes at a suburban birthday party. Each of the film’s issues stems from this split-personality, and it never fully develops either of these ideas, leaving it to feel wholly anticlimactic. Sure, there’s projectile vomiting and bleeding facial pustules, a naked hallucination in a motel room, and some heavily implied cunnilingus, but it all amounts to just over an hour of nothing. Ultimately, Epidemic is the story of a father’s guilt, cloaked in a really bad Sci-Fi/Horror attempt. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Epidemic 2 of 5 stars.