The Missouri Strain (2012) – By Cary Conley

An average family–husband, wife, and young daughter–wake up early to what they are expecting to be an idyllic morning. A home-cooked breakfast and a father-daughter trip to the zoo is on tap. But those plans are put on hold quickly once the father realizes that the streets of St. Louis are filled with emergency vehicles. A quick check of the television reveals that a monstrous, man-made virus has escaped the lab, turning normal, everyday people into flesh-eating maniacs with glowing green eyes. The President is urging the evacuation of all major cities in an effort to halt the spread of the disease, and the trio take that evacuation to heart, leaving the relative safety of their home and heading out into the streets to face an uncertain future.

Let me say up front that this is possibly the most professional-looking independent film I’ve seen in quite a while. It looks Hollywood-slick, with very high production values. The cinematography by Mitch Martinez and Christian Neonakis is excellent, with smooth tracking shots, beautiful scenery, and some interesting camera play. An example occurs near the beginning of the film in a lab. The camera tracks across a lab table filled with vials and test tubes until we see lab technician. The foreground of scientific equipment is blurry but the technician in the background is clear. The camera picks up a group of vials filled with blood and the focus shifts to the foreground. The story is being told by the camera with not a single word spoken.

The editing, by Wes Kotansky, Jr., who also directed the film, is also excellent as well. In one fantastic scene a young girl is walking down a gravel road, her car with flashers on in the background. It’s obvious the car has broken down. In a superbly creative sequence, we see a blurry figure in the background while the girl’s frightened face is in the foreground. The figure begins to run and the screen goes black. Then the scene flashes and we see the running figure getting closer, then the screen goes black again. This is repeated several times in quick succession until the viral-enraged zombie is at the girl’s throat. It is a fantastic way to create and ratchet up the tension in the scene. Kotansky certainly has the vision for filmmaking. He also is able to shoot and edit in such a way that the viewer understands the action without having to see the physical violence that is occurring. While this might have merely been a budgetary constraint, I think it actually helps the film. The viewer sees plenty of blood as it is; anything more would have cheapened the picture.

The music score by AudioMachine is another high point for the film and matches the action perfectly. The music used for the closing credits is simply terrific.

About the only flaw I could find was in the writing. Some of the dialogue between characters isn’t the best it could be. A case in point is when the family is about to be attacked in the woods and the father tells the mother to look for anything that could be used as a weapon. Instead, she reaches for her daughter and tells her it’s very dangerous, not to move, just to stay put and nothing will happen to her. I didn’t find this reaction to be totally realistic. As a parent, I would save my breath, keep my child with me, and look as quickly as I could to find some sort of weapon or hiding place. Likewise, after the father fends off an attach, he picks up his daughter, takes a step, then puts her back down to lecture her not to cry because he isn’t going to let anything happen to her. He knows that’s not true, she knows that’s not true, and the viewer knows that’s not true. As a father, I’d have been running with my daughter in my arms just as fast as my legs could carry me, and I wouldn’t care whether my child was crying or not.

Another basic story flaw I noticed was near the beginning of the film when the newscast announcing the disaster is on. The President issues an order to evacuate all major cities. I’m not doctor, but I would imagine that a quarantine (such as in the REC series) would have been more prudent. The last thing you want is to send millions of potential infected victims out into the countryside. And if I were leading my family in an evacuation, it certainly would not have been on foot. That’s just asking for disaster. Why not take the car?

Aside from some flawed dialogue and story elements, I have to applaud director Kotansky for sticking to a downbeat ending to the film. It’s refreshing to me when I see a disaster film that doesn’t have a perfectly happy ending. Too often filmmakers want to go for the heart and give the audience a sappy ending, but not Kotansky. No, he goes for the gut instead.

The Missouri Strain is currently making the festival rounds where it has picked up several award nominations. For more information or to view the preview, go to http://www.weskopictures.com or search for the film at IMDb.com.