Film the apocalypse before you get your driver’s license.
What did you accomplish when you were 13?
Did you play a chorus solo?
Maybe you got to the championship in your favorite sport?
If you’re Emily Hagins, you were at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas for the premiere of a zombie feature film you wrote, cast, directed, shot, and produced.
Pathogen Review – Written by guest Kelly B.
Pathogen is the story of a life (or living death) zombie apocalypse triggered by the accidental contamination of Austin’s water supply by a deadly nanochip. What follows is the bloody and violent experience of a decaying civilization…all from the perspective of a college girl.
The film was released on Blu-Ray by AGFA and Bleeding Skull on March 29, 2022, for its first major large-scale release. Pathogen has all the hallmarks of the “Shot on Video” horror movement of the 80s and 90s: the buzzing ambient noise of the mounted mic picking up the spinning tape, cameos through the boom mic and camera reflections in a window, the sound mixing that makes dialogue indistinguishable from non-diegetic music or unusually loud buzz tracks, the occasional sloppy editing with a clunky intro, and the insecure acting and dialogue that only amateurs and youngsters can create. It’s a movie that’s technically a mess with moments of clever editing, restrained storytelling, and a fast pace. However, like the works of the Polonia Brothers (Feeders, Terror House), David Prior (Sledgehammer) and Tim Ritter (Dirty Cop, No Donut, Wicked Games), what it lacks in professional presentation and execution it makes up for with the honesty and the heart that shines through. It is in this charm and seriousness that the film leaves its indelible mark on viewers and recalls the youthful optimism inherent in budding creativity.
As seen in the documentary Zombie Girl: A Documentary (which is a featurette on the AGFA Blu-Ray release), Haggins conceived Pathogen when she was just 10 years old, inspired by the film Undead which screened during the 24 hour film marathon. “Butt-Numb-A-Thon 5” hosted by film critic Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News. Knowles had invited Haggins to the event after receiving a letter from director Peter Jackson. Haggins had written to Jackson after falling in love with The Fellowship of the Rings, and Jackson wanted Knowles to connect Haggins with Austin-based filmmakers to nurture his passion for filmmaking. After a few internships on independent horror films, notably as a behind-the-scenes cameraman and interviewer, she devoted herself to directing a zombie feature film.
Using MiniDV camcorders, a microphone taped to a paint roller, and throwing away her friends and relatives, she filmed and edited Pathogen on weekends and school holidays. In the post-production phase, she had her wallet, computer and other equipment stolen, blocking the finalization of the film. However, she received a grant from the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund to complete the editing and filming of shots. After renting the same Alamo Drafthouse theater that boosted his film career, Pathogen premiered on March 25, 2006.
Emily Hagins is now 29 and continues to make films. In 2017, she wrote and directed the Netflix Original Film Coin Heist and contributed to the 2020 horror anthology Scare Package, which was released exclusively on Shudder. However, I dare say that her legacy will forever be bound and anchored by the humble zombie film she made, and what it represents in the landscape of passionate independent filmmakers.
Pathogen is only 66 minutes long, and the story shows the experience of zombie uprising from the perspective of tweens. Before Stranger Things gave us rambling young suburban adventurers bearing the cross for saving the world from an overwhelming threat, Pathogen had 5 college kids gathered in a suburban living room trying to escape the clutches of zombified, grown-up children. , and paired with scientific research to find a cure. There’s a sense of authenticity to the dialogue and its hesitant delivery, where the children always seem to walk away in quiet reserve, or stare away from their stage counterparts with a mixture of insecurity and humble confidence that only the state of flux of adolescence can promote this. That coyness is present even in the zombie attack shots, where you’ll spot the occasional amused smile amid the obviously restrained and weak attempts to fight off an escape. It’s a movie any kid could have made with their friends, dipping their toes into the delicate process of filmmaking, with the insecurities and imperfections intact. It’s that honesty, that passion, and that heart that shines through every snag and flaw. It’s the best that cinema as a concept and an ambition has to offer to dreamers, young and old.
At the risk of sounding sophomoric for bringing an elevated discussion about a zombie apocalypse movie, I couldn’t help but notice how our middle school protagonists preyed mostly on those younger and older than them (children of primary school age and parents) . It’s in this position, caught between the childhood innocence they left behind and the harsh reality of their budding adulthood, that our teenage leads find themselves literally torn apart. The only adults who could offer protection from the dangers of the world manifesting around them are either parents who themselves can no longer offer guardianship, or a research scientist who was the very reason for the outbreak and whose pride puts children in even greater danger. . This sense of hopelessness and the legacy of a corrupt world from the previous generation is reminiscent of the feelings Millennials and Gen Z share about the issues they were born into: climate change, economic disparity and racial and social inequalities. In a scene that doesn’t last long enough, one of our female leads stabs a man in the neck when he approaches them for help. After investigating his corpse, they learn he was not a zombie. (“He has emotion in his face.”) Thematically, one couldn’t ask for a more powerful scene: no longer tied to the naivety and fragility of childhood, and approaching themselves of adulthood, they see adults as they are (especially a young girl): a threat.
The film ends in a way that punctuates the experience in two ways: 1) giving up hope of repairing or surviving their new world, and 2) a freeze frame where one can clearly see the actor smiles while being attacked. In that moment, we attach an arc to the theme and the story, and see in a moment of unintended frankness the joy and fun of the cinematic experience.
Kelly B. is a content creator on YouTube known as VaporKelly, primarily creating 50 seconds movie reviews every day of the week. You can contact him on Twitter and other social media platforms listed on its Carrd.