Jefferson Lewis offers a unique perspective in healthcare crisis by considering how contemporary society would react to a 19th century pandemic. In this case, yesteryear’s plague was the 1885 smallpox epidemic that devastated Montreal – the last time the disease impacted North America.
Lewis creates a wicked scenario where a flight attendant arriving from London comes down with a chicken pox-type illness. The flight attendant is unable to get emergency room care, so she relies on over-the-counter medication and sleeps it off in her hotel room. However, the airborne smallpox virus carried by the ailing flight attendant soon impacts a wider circle of unsuspecting people – including the hotel cleaning staff that unknowingly handled the ill woman’s bed sheets.
Mixed within this speculation is the historical review of how Montreal handled its 1885 smallpox epidemic, and whether the city (and, by extension, Western civilization) is able to cope with a killer that was believed to have been eradicated. In view of the shaky manner in which crises such as AIDS, SARS and the H1N1 virus were handled, Lewis’ film raises disturbing questions on whether contemporary healthcare systems are able to identify and respond to fast-spreading pandemics. In many ways, this provocative production is scarier than any Hollywood sci-fi thriller.