Apr 25, 2023
Cade Carradine, Ricco Ross, Marguerite Wheatley
No prizes if you predicted that ‘Big Pharma’ might be an increasingly villainous presence in movies in the coming years. Barak Shpiez’ short thriller Vax provides conspiratorial drama that brings to life the fears many hold of private industry control over healthcare.
In the early 2000s, a research team working on a Malaria vaccine make an astonishing breakthrough that means millions of lives across the world may be saved. But excited and impassioned Geoff (Cade Carradine) has suspicions that his colleague Eric (Ricco Ross) may have other plans for their development. Fearing that private interests may wish to scupper the project, Geoff breaks protocol to reveal it to his partner Rachel (Marguerite Wheatley) to help him decide whether drastic action is needed to protect the future.
Provocative and political right down to its very title, Vax is perhaps a much more traditional thriller than many viewers may expect. From its fictionalised-though-truth-based news report opening which highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush-era obsession with the threat of Iraq over countless other security threats, to the implications that both private corporations and governments are more welcoming of treatments for diseases rather than preventions or cures, the film clearly errs on the critical side when it comes to big business – though thankfully without ever going full-on tinfoil, ‘GB News host’ levels of conspiracy theory. The film is clear in demonstrating a belief in the benefits of vaccines, and through the character of Geoff demonstrates that hardworking, moral people who work in the pharmaceutical industry commit their lives to the betterment of mankind. By instead skewering the money-men and their robot-like facilitators, the majority of viewers will feel comfortable with the film’s message.
And this is a relief, as the short itself is very well-realised and constructed. Director Barak Shpiez conjures an impressive sense of stress and tension, as the viewer joins Geoff in trying to figure out Eric’s true intentions. The scenes in the laboratory demonstrate the unease that exists between the pair, and Geoff’s frantic revealing of the secret to Rachel feels more understandable given the chemistry that is built between the pair.
The biggest issue is that the film ultimately feels like a middle without a beginning or end. Both Geoff and Rachel are placed in great danger in order to transpose an element of personal threat alongside the moral and global impact that destroying the vaccine would have. But viewers have precious little time to get to really know either character, particularly Rachel, and without a real sense of scale being established beyond the initial news reports, the stakes therefore never really reach their potential. Similarly, the film’s cliff-hanger ending feels sudden and jarring rather than enticing, due to the aforementioned shortcomings in building the viewers’ interest in Geoff and Rachel.
There is plenty to like in Vax, which builds tension well and features good (if a little hammy) performances from its small cast. It’s a shame it begins and ends too abruptly, as 5 extra minutes either side of the story we get would likely be sufficient to address the primary issues – which relate to character development and worldbuilding. Given the impressive work the director puts into this finished film, it’s safe to say more fleshing out would be similarly successful. Let’s just hope Big Pharma didn’t find their way into the editing room.
Watch the official trailer for Vax here.