INFECTION (a.k.a. Infeccion) **** Venezuela / Mexico 2019 Dir: Flavio Pedota. 96 mins
Banned in its native Venezuela for its anti-Chavismo content (though screened independently in early 2020), writer-director Flavio Pedota’s visceral movie may initially appear to be another post-28 DAYS LATER viral apocalypse but beneath the surface lies contemporary resonance and fury. It opens in Caracas, where a Russian man dabbling with an experimental drug becomes infected with a rapid mutation of the rabies virus with 0% immunity. Ruben Guevara, a major specialist in molecular biology, learns of the new disease as he’s grieving his recently passed, cancer-stricken wife; meanwhile the infection swiftly spreads in hospitals, on planes and in the streets. The movie was conceived before so many of the events that it now seems to echo: it was in production back in 2016, before the Zika virus arrived during a devastating recession in Venezuela. Many territories get to experience INFECTION during the Coronavirus pandemic, so it carries an extra charge as borders are closed, the infected are isolated and radio broadcasts order people to stay in their homes. The tireless influence of Romero is apparent in the ominous military presence instructed to kill the infected while the hero desperately tries to reach his young son in the country. Society collapses and nice people die horribly and arbitrarily.
It’s a dynamically paced, good-looking low budget movie, less interested in splashy gore than it is a frenetic portrait of civilisation falling apart. The cast is strong, with Guevara a charismatic, sympathetic audience surrogate: he also has the most beautiful eyes in contemporary infection cinema. The subtext of life in 21st century Venezuela is plain to see. Chavismo denies the unfolding zombie plague just as it failed to acknowledge other issues threatening the populace: the escalating crisis is downplayed as “little outbreaks” blamed on “small groups wanting attention”. Fleeing from the heart of the virus, one of the climactic refugees wears a pro-Chavez T-shirt while graffiti lamenting “Maduro dictador” is glimpsed in one scene alongside a corpse underneath a sign bitterly reading “An achievement of the Bolivarian Revolution”. The outcome might appear optimistic considering all that has gone before, but the closing moments suggest a grim future, with real footage of migrants on the move in Venezuela bleakly interwoven into simulated documentary-style interviews with survivors who face the constant fear of running out of food and money as they attempt to cross the border after being infected.
Review by Steven West