As I watch the tragic news footage from Norway I am reminded of scenes in Nine’s new telemovie, the now-unfortunately titled Panic at Rock Island.
In Norway we are told of young people swimming for their lives, desperate to flee an island of terror -and that’s exactly what takes place in tonight’s movie.
Sadly, sometimes life is more horrific than art.
In defence of Nine’s telemovie, it was completed many months ago and indeed scheduled before the weekend’s tragic events.
But that’s about the only defence I can muster for this telemovie. On almost every other point, it’s a shocker.
This is a successor to Scorched (which Nine’s own site incorrectly states was last year- it was actually 2008) as a hypothetical situation. On paper I can see the idea of a disaster taking place in the middle of Sydney Harbour would be appealing (especially for international sales). I even got excited by the notion that a virus outbreak was finally offering something different from the usual run of cops, crims and hospital dramas.
An early scene shows two young people scaling the fence of a facility and being chased by a guard dog. When they climb another fence and outwit the dog, you can just make out the torchlight carried by a security guard bringing up the rear. The two escape down some stairs into the underground. Phew! Close call. But what of the security guard? Did he just give up and go back to playing Solitaire on his computer?
This was the first of many illogical script points, all of which which slowly disintegrated the credibility of Panic at Rock Island.
The story is told from the point of view of Chief Medical Examiner Jim Quinn (Grant Bowler) who learns that a rapid and contagious disease is breaking out at a concert venue in the middle of Sydney Harbour. People are vomiting all over the place (incessantly!), their skin looks like the walking dead, and some are even expiring in theatrical circumstances. His police constable daughter (Jessica Tovey) just happens to be on duty as police security. Jeopardy plus.
The state government, personified by a couple of bearded suits, block Quinn’s recourse at every move. They don’t want to cause panic. Umm, haven’t they seen the name of this movie?
Then there is the subplot led by Vince Colosimo, a former soldier in Afghanistan, now hired as a government spook who huffs and puffs a lot without adding much in particular. He’s rarely been so unlikable.
Damian Walshe-Howling plays a well-meaning doctor, warning Quinn of the escalating disaster, and almost single-handedly trying to medicate it.
You Am I and Spiderbait perform at the rock concert, entertaining the extras before they do their best hysteria scenes.
Dialogue is klunky. Over-acting is almost an epidemic in itself. The whole thing is shot in vomit-cam (it’s relentless) and many of the characters are obnoxious.
On a positive note, the ghoulish make-up is good, and Bowler is doing his best to make something with dubious material.
It’s hard not to see this as something of a lost opportunity. It is devoid of any humour. The whole thing is played straight. While the zombie genre is enjoying a resurgence this thing avoids going there and tries to hoodwink us into believing a virus outbreak might really happen in this way.
My heart sank when I realised the prospect of a rollicking good zombie flick amounted to nothing more than a D-grade local drama.
Panic at Rock Island airs 8:30pm Sunday on Nine.