Lockdown (aka COVID-19: Invasion) might be one of the dumbest pandemic-set movies I’ve seen yet — but I also enjoyed its scrappy, desperate energy, so maybe I’m just a sucker for this sort of thing.
I don’t call a film “dumb” lightly, so let me explain: Writer-director Micah Lyons set out with a small cast and crew to make an action movie during the height of the pandemic. No script was ready when they started, but the basic premise is that a few years down the line, COVID-19 becomes even worse and completely destroys society. A group of rednecks led by Rex (WWE’s Kevin Nash) decides to massacre some homeless folks living in an abandoned school building but are resisted by everyman Dean (David Ford), who is at the school building looking for his vagrant sister, Courtney (Stephanie Kae Smith). No mention is made of vaccines.
No characters wear masks. No treatments for the virus are mentioned. Just rednecks in a school shooting people with long rifles.
Insofar as this is a film that actually deals with COVID-19 … well, it isn’t even engaged with the actual reality of the virus enough to feel like a pandemic exploitation film. A few characters freak out about sneezes. But for the most part, Lockdown is a string of very slow fistfights and shootouts in an abandoned school building with occasional respiratory responses from characters. The premise promises something of memorably bad taste, but there’s not really much flavor to the pandemic stuff here, good or bad.
What does feel in bad taste, though, is the school setting. A viral pandemic has not stopped violence in American schools, and the worst of those attacks are generally committed with long rifles and other weaponry seen here. While watching the action, I was taken aback by the fact that Dean spends so much time running around a very small school trying to find ways to escape. The school featured here is not particularly large, and the world around it is depicted as abandoned. Then I got to thinking about how large and terrifying a school probably feels if someone is brandishing a rifle with murderous intent, and it started to feel like Lockdown’s lack of interest in that contemporary issue does feel in bad taste.
Others’ overwrought reviews act like this is the movie that would offend their convictions about the virus, though, and don’t seem to feel similarly about the school stuff. If Lyons’ script didn’t call it COVID-19 explicitly, it would feel like any other cheap, post-pandemic micro-budget action thriller.
Thrills, though, are mostly in short supply. I’m a cheap-seats kinda guy when it comes to independent action movies, and I’ll admit a few scenes caught my attention — even though they’re not particularly special. Slater (Swayde McCoy) is the big bad for most of the movie, as Nash is mostly absent. His final fight and demise is memorably over-the-top. Plus, a few fights between Dean and random rednecks inside the school are hilariously slow but fun. The goofy melodrama between Dean and Courtney is pretty funny, too, and also verges on bad taste: She ran away and missed her parents’ death, and Dean has never stopped hunting her. How her story ends, well … I laughed out of surprise.
I always think there’s something admirable about a small group of folks who head out into the woods to shoot an action movie, even if it doesn’t amount to much more than a handful of memorable sequences. Although it doesn’t really take an interesting perspective on the pandemic (or, really, anything), Lockdown feels like a harbinger of even more low-budget action movies that use COVID-19 as a plot device to put a small group of people in a confined space for the sake of violence. As a regular viewer of this kind of stuff, I’m surprised I hadn’t seen one try already. Props for being first, but I wish it had more to offer.