In 1983 all children aged nine years or less fall into a coma at the same time. The children remain in the coma for the next 10 years and all children born during this time are born into the same state. Ten years later Tom Russel, who was imprisoned after killing a man in a fight, is released from prison and returns to his home town where his older brother has a son in a coma. That night all the children wake up but they are hellbent on killing all the adults. It soon becomes apparent that the children share a sort of collective consciousness and as one learns they all learn. As they get smarter they learn to disable motor vehicles and eventually to use firearms. A group of survivors, led by Tom and Jean, try to escape to the safety of a base located 60 km outside the town.
Directed by: Hal Masonberg
. Starring: James Van Der Beek
, Ivana Milicevic
, Brad Hunt
, Joshua Close
, John P. Connolly
, Dee Wallace
, Brittany Scobie
, Bradley Sawatzky
, Jon Ted Wynne
, Arne MacPherson
, Gene Pyrz
, Genevieve Pelletier
, Chad Panting
Stephen King once described Clive Barker as the future of horror, and the first thirty or so minutes of The Plague will leave you in no doubt as to why. The problem is that the other sixty minutes are such a major let-down that it makes that incredible opening seem like a distant memory. Clive Barker is credited as only one of fourteen producers, line, executive, and associate included, so it does not take a lot to work out what happened here. Put simply, Barker was only able to extend his remarkable influence into the first third of the film, then the other cooks came along and pretty much defecated into the pie. I must take care to give this fact proper emphasis, because had the film retained a quality more consistent with that opening third throughout its running length, it would be either a hailed classic along the lines of The Omen (the real Omen, anyway), or an overlooked classic along the lines of the original Hellraiser. As it currently stands, it is yet another example of filmmakers not daring to grab an interesting idea by the nethers.
The film begins in a fairly pleasant manner. A man wakes up in his bed, gets dressed, calls to his son that it is time to get up and get ready for school, all the usual stuff we take for granted, in other words. It is when we see the son that this opening thirty minutes starts to do its magic. The child is lying in his bed, apparently foaming at the mouth, totally unresponsive to stimuli. As any parent would do, the father carries the boy to the local hospital, desperately asking for help. At first, the response of the available staff, which amounts to an instruction to get in line, comes as a shock. Then we see that hundreds, if not thousands, of children have turned up to this ward, all with the exact same condition. A television left displaying the news in the waiting room informs us that this is going on everywhere in the world. I do not know where they found all of these child actors, but whomever coached them in how to convincingly throw a fit earned their pay and then some.
Slowly, the film builds up a creeping sense of despair as society falls into chaos as a result of this plague. Pregnancy is outlawed, the very real possibility that there will not be another generation of humans after this one is given the right amount of discussion, and the ramifications within the lives of detailed parent characters are explored. Put simply, everything that the 1994 miniseries of The Stand got so badly wrong in its first third, The Plague gets so very right. Instead of a badly-acted, unconvincing high school play, we get actors and a director who know how to strike the right balance between atmosphere and action. Key to this is the actors playing the children and adolescents. Shots of school basketball courts full of individuals under the age of twenty strapped into hospital beds with IV feeds makes for a great visual statement. When they throw fits or start turning their heads in unison, it gives the whole image a surreal quality that Salvador Dalí might well have admired.
And then the children, after ageing ten years, wake up. This is the point where the entire effort comes crashing down faster than a pedal-powered plane. In place of the atmospheric tension that draws the audience in and places them in the shoes of the conscious characters, the next hour of the film resorts to the kind of scare tactics that add up to little more than banging cymbals behind the heads of the audience at random intervals. The newly-woken children are suddenly transformed into zombie-like cannibals that equally youthful individuals unaffected by the plague for reasons that are never adequately explained can sneak about in. No explanation is ever offered for why these now-adolescent characters have the urge to eat the living things around them, leave alone how they would have sufficient muscle to stand under their own power after having been comatose and convulsive for ten years. Funny things tend to happen to people in such situations for such an extended period of time. Generally, they tend to die. Although the longest coma on record is in excess of thirty-seven years, anything in excess of three months entails a low chance of recovery.
And that is probably the most frustrating thing about The Plague. A good writer like Clive Barker knows that an idea as fantastic as this needs as much of the background and detail explored as possible. Plausibility is a key factor in any storytelling, and the biggest differential between the two parts of The Plague is plausibility. Every effort that the screenwriter and actors spent drawing the audience in is essentially tossed away in favour of cheap scares and attempts at action. A much better plot arc would have been to have the children awaken for a brief period before the plague took them away again, but this would have required thought and subtlety in execution that the people in control of the latter part of the film were apparently incapable of. Words utterly fail me when I try to describe just how frustrating most of The Plague was to watch. Hell, I could have written a far more interesting story about one person in a coma.
And that is why I am giving The Plague a five out of ten. Five for the opening half-hour or so, zero for the rest of it. Students of storytelling will find it educational, but everyone else is advised to be cautious.
Review by mentalcritic from the Internet Movie Database.