Piper Pence and the Pandemic
24 May 2022
A condescending pandemic comedy-turned-infomercial about how much it sucks to stay inside and watch movies.
Over the last two years, the singular fascination with the impact of Covid-19 has led to an over-saturation of pandemic texts. They are often unable to capture a thoughtful sense of people’s experience, ranging from gratuitous views of poverty-stricken communities all the way to self-satisfied celebrity perspectives which entirely ignore material impact on lives (the most significant of these being the out-of-tune and out-of-touch ‘Imagine’ video starring Gal Gadot and friends musing lyrically on the world from their fortified mansion homes).
A similar tone is immediately effected by Piper Pence and the Pandemic, presented straight to camera by the titular protagonist who spends her days watching classic movies. A self-proclaimed “dirty little binger,” she describes being isolated by herself for months as “kind of awesome.” She delivers jokes with a perpetual smirk and self-satisfied chuckles about it being “daylight 1 million of the pandemic.”
The turn from our world to something more fantastical comes as a warning alarm calls out and announces the neighbourhood has been infiltrated by zombies. In spite of the suddenly raised stakes, the tone stays consistent, particularly in its persistence of condescension. “It would have been over from the very beginning if everyone had just stayed inside,” she suggests. Comments such as this call into question how allegorical this is intended to be, as much of her rhetoric seems borrowed from real-life events. Assuming this particular comment is supposed to be as relevant to the world of Covid-19 as it is to a zombie outbreak, what began as a playful tone becomes overtly didactic. Combined with the straight-to-camera style, it begins to feel more like an infomercial loosely covered by heightened horror.
Taking the film on these terms, the idea that everyone should have stayed inside is a much easier statement to make when you’re Gal Gadot, or when you’re a child of indeterminable age whose parents seem to have left you in a large suburban house by yourself. The space of the house itself is a contradiction of cheery fun and death. Immediately following a pop-music montage of passing the time, she is forced to kill a zombie that has entered the house. Bringing out the dead shows a similar levity, with her neighbour giving a half-hearted wave as if simply taking out the bins.
Protecting her domestic space with a shotgun, while a necessity, points to a broader fear and privilege, in which those invading suburbia have to be killed and disposed of to maintain the established environment. As she returns to her absurdly large house, she tries to express some fear on the phone to her mother, but her dread goes unheard.
The turn to a more serious tone intends to evoke some sympathy for her. Her grief for a life stalled acquiesces to a milder complaint - merely ‘I’m tired.’ Again, there is sadness to this, and suffering is absolute to whoever experiences it. But given that even in this heightened allegorical world of zombies, people are dying while she watches films, sympathy is not what immediately presents itself to me.
Returning to the original idea of a cyclical life, she sits back down to watch more movies. Posed with the television’s question, ‘Do you wish to continue?’ she answers yes. I would have said no.