Pandemic Cinema: What to Watch While in Quarantine

Feel like you have to stay home due to coronavirus containment measures? Wonder what a pandemic might actually do to your fellow humans? Want some timely content to stream while you’re working from home but don’t know where to begin? The Twin Geeks has your back. We’ve watched and shared our thoughts on some of the best, or at least memorable, pandemic and post-pandemic films. 

Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón.

Clive Owen headlines as Theo Faron in writer/director’s Alfonso Cuarón gritty and violent film adapted from P. D. James’ 1992 novel of the same name. The premise is simple yet terrifying: It’s 2027 and there hasn’t been a live birth on the planet since 2009 due to an untreatable plague that caused worldwide infertility. The youngest person on Earth has been murdered for refusing to sign an autograph. The opening scenes are a masterclass in cinematic world-building. What keeps the viewer watching is Theo’s brooding compassion and Jasper (Michael Caine), a senior citizen and pot-smoking activist. Theo gets roped into helping his ex-wife, activist and possible terrorist Julian (Julianne Moore), transport an illegal refugee to the coast. Violence, peril, and hope ensue. Watch if you can handle a grim movie that ends on an ambiguous, hopeful note. This film does a great job of capturing the grit and anarchy of a civilization on the brink of collapse. The desperation and futility are tangible from the opening scene. — Laura Lanning

Outbreak (1995)

Outbreak. Dir. Wolfgang Petersen.

So much death from one cute little monkey. Dustin Hoffman stars as Sam Daniels In Wolfgang Petersen’s mid-90s plague classic. The plot is a generic, convoluted thriller and perfect for self-isolation viewing. Tropes and predictability comfort many viewers and this film is no exception. One can only hope the actual United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (or USAMRIID) is not so sloppy with their containment and lab protocols. There’s a military secret subplot that had no place and did nothing to jack up the tension or stakes. Plusses are a wise-cracking Kevin Spacey and uptight Cuba Gooding Jr. that have surprisingly good on-screen chemistry. — Laura Lanning

Contagion (2011)

Contagian. Dir. Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh’s realistic drama with an all-star ensemble cast tackles the logistics and the human cost of a virulent, worldwide pandemic. Laurence Fishburne leads the CDC as Dr. Ellis Cheever with the gravitas and humanity suitable for his position. The CDC races to find a vaccine as well as contain the spread of the new virus and treat the sick. This film may hit close to home, given the current COVID-19 events. COVID-19 is not as virulent or deadly as the virus in Contagion. The film does a great job at showing how casual contact can spread disease, like when an infected character takes a few nuts from the open bowls on a bar after she’s coughed into her hand. I watched this film when I was getting over Influenza B and it terrified me. — Laura Lanning

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque of the Red Death. Dir. Roger Corman.

Roger Corman’s take on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death forgoes literal translation for supreme B-movie interests. It expands the illustrious imagery-rich prose into a feature-length film about sequestering ourselves from the evil of the plague. It features a prime Vincent Price, in one of his finest roles as Satanist Prince Prospero. He enforces his rule upon the peasants. We see those of little luck are never taken care of under such dire circumstances (how many of our Seattle homeless now wander outdoors with the current Coronavirus strain?) “The uninvited has much to fear,” Price bellows, and we believe him. If you had to be quarantined for an extended time, one could only hope it is within the walls of such fine interior design. I love a good romantic interest within such dire circumstances, in a film filled with vibrant reds, Prospero can not help but be enamored by Francesca (Jane Asher, radiant in amber), her fundamental goodness overwhelms any questions of her Christianity — “how truly realistic women are.” The Masque of the Red Death has first-rate acting and a compelling take on the outbreak narrative, with plenty going on under the hood, socially and theistically. If it is not perfectly CDC approved, it is, at least, The Twin Geeks approved, for your downtime. It is a damn creative adaptation that gets great mileage out of Price throwing down on some real fun, extremely quotable material: “Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long time.” — Calvin Kemph

Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil. Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson.

What I love about Resident Evil is the slick visualization of how an outbreak would come to pass. After a crispy voiceover forewarning that the medical establishment may not have vested interest in our own well-being, it sets up a cool aesthetic for the virus spreading. A scientist is wearing a cool-ass space suit and arranging tubes of spiraling blue and green colored cells into a safe. Chilly industrial music plays over the scene. The dummy lab technician throws one of the vials and it swirls in the air, in slow motion! It breaks against a table and the T-virus spreads through the air. For some reason, this medical safe area is full of vents (this would seem impossible, given they would want a stable air locked area.) Thus, the virus spreads, and like any good videogamey thing, it just presents a prime excuse for action. The proceeding scientist freakout and incident with the dogs is good, messy fun. We do not need to forgive the film anything, besides excluding some original characters. We all need entertainment on lockdown, and Resident Evil is a blast, if not altogether a serious and great movie. In many ways, the series would grow out of its videogame popularity and become a movie franchise of its own good and silly merits. Among “vulgar auteurs” (what a dirty phrase), Paul W.S. Anderson has become respected for his unpretentious action and sense for creating such simple, straightforward, and satisfying visuals. — Calvin Kemph

28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later. Dir. Danny Boyle.

Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland struck infected gold at exactly the right time. Just before 9/11 and The Walking Dead (2010 – Present) they formulated the modern zombie picture. 28 Days Later wonders, for all our modernity, whether we would be ready for a true catastrophe. (Absolutely not, we could never truly be.) The now-renowned duo was given privileged access to film their apocalypse on blocked-off London streets. Again, with what shortly followed, such a conception would have since had to be done on a green screen. Strikingly, they also employed the Euro tradition of frighteningly-fast zombies, more manifestations of pure rage than brain rot. That the virus is born from a disease of fear and rage is truly disturbing for what is in front of us now. This rewatch brought into fresh relief the probing fear that comes with the spread of any virus — the endemic spread through surreal circular means, the haunting isolation of streets we could not have imagined empty. Sans zombies, we might find so much familiar about the feeling it provokes in our current lives. Followed by the mostly-great 28 Weeks Later (2007). Alex Garland has recently said there’s an idea for a third. I think that the world has suddenly become all too ready for that prospect. — Calvin Kemph

Cabin Fever (2002)

Cabin Fever. Dir. Eli Roth.

Cabin fever. We’re all feeling it. With our cities closed down and being forced indoors, the psychological torment of too much time excluded from society begins to fester. We watch some old horror movies, hoping to find some solace in the pains and fears of others, that might absolve some of our own. The cabin in the woods story is yesterday’s news. What horror fanboy Eli Roth brought to the setting is a more pressing kind of dread for today’s teens. There has always been some subtext in the slasher genre, like it portrays some kind of punishment for the promiscuous. What could be more interconnected than a spreading disease? While we all remember not to make physical contact and to stay a good distance apart, Cabin Fever twists the knife of our fears right into our spines. Shot on Super 35 and drained of half its color, Cabin Fever holds a distinct look and placement in time. It’s not a great movie, but has some standout moments, when a man’s want for sex is thwarted by too much blood, in a gross-out moment that reads as a woman’s revenge. Or when potential but unarrived screen queen Cerina Vincent shaves in the tub and the razor slides over the broken and diseased skin of her new virus. It’s good viral horror stuff, that established Eli Roth as an interesting new name that would get to have some fun inside old horror spaces. — Calvin Kemph

Panic in the Streets (1950)

Panic in the Streets. Dir. Elia Kazan.

A deeper cut for those looking to explore what takes Classic Hollywood has on the epidemic of plagues, stage and film director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951, On the Waterfront, 1954) mixes the tense atmosphere of the contagion thriller with the procedural manhunt of infected murderers in this Film Noir hybrid. The capabilities of our law enforcement and medical professionals are put to the test as both rub against each other in their mission to track down the murderers of a seaman, just docked in New Orleans, who is diagnosed to have contracted the Pneumonic Plague. The disease that wiped out the Middle Ages now resides in this ruthless killer, a towering and psychotic Jack Palance, in his film debut. With only 48 hours to track down the killer, and without a shred of evidence to start with, can Richard Widmark’s frantic Dr. Reed get the police to take this matter seriously, and track down Palance’s monstrous murderer before the infection spreads and panic inevitably breaks out? — David Punch


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