Mockumentaries don’t work unless they perfectly ape the tone of documentaries. As disparate as the styles involved, from REC to the work of Christopher Guest, there’s one thing that all good mockumentaries have in common – realism. You believe that the people in Best in Show are real. You believe that in REC, that block of flats is in real trouble. In The Blair Witch Project, you believe that there really is a witch, or something terrible. This is the problem with The Gerber Syndrome – it just isn’t believable.
The eponymous illness depicted here takes influence from various pandemics throughout cinematic history – there’s a touch of the fury from 28 Days Later, and the initial passivity of the bug from Contagion, both of which also lend stylistic influences in terms of story and character. There’s Ricardi, the impassioned doctor fighting as hard as he can to stem the tide; young Luigi, a security operative with the mysterious Central Security, a government agency dedicated to the capture and quarantine of the infected; and Melissa, a student who was attacked and may have been bitten.
The Gerber Syndrome also features some social commentary, with references to AIDS sitting alongside talk of the infected no longer being human. It also makes an interesting point about how healthcare is seen by governments, and how the primary motive for treating the patients is behavioural, rather than diagnostic. The ill are only a problem when they start to cause fights and commit robberies.
While the film’s social issues are all well and good, the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The moment we see Melissa’s encounter walking home from classes we know it’s not going to end well, and this happens with every character – as soon as we meet them, their trajectory is clearly plotted out for us. There’s only one way that Luigi’s story can end, same with Melissa, same with Doctor Ricardi.
Dr. Ricardi is an interesting character. Ostensibly the film is the footage gained by a documentary crew following him and his work through the outbreak, and as the action progresses they are granted more access than they initially anticipated. The crew themselves become a liability towards the end, appearing suicidal in search of the perfect shot or background noise. Their idiocy stretches the credulity of the film, and just isn’t necessary.
Another problem is the melodramatic music that Maxi Dejoie chooses to put over the most dramatic moments. It makes the film seem more like a Spanish telenovella than a supposedly gritty and authentic look at the truth of a pandemic. In bolder, more experimental hands, this film would work – in fact it did work, in Soderbergh‘s hands, with Contagion. It’s reductive to compare the two films just because they share a similar story, but it’s difficult to resist the urge when one is so much better than the other.