The story of how the film came to be is interesting enough to perhaps one day become the subject of its own movie. In the earliest days of the pandemic, some hospitals actually welcomed the presence of the media to help get the word out about what was happening. Hao Wu was there doing research for a pandemic film for a U.S. network when he met two other reporters, Weixi Chen and another who has chosen to remain anonymous, and they agreed to collaborate until a media crackdown in late March forced that to come to an official end. After returning to the U.S. and quarantining in Atlanta, Hao began putting together a rough cut of their footage, shot at four different hospitals, and which was smuggled digitally past officials. When the aforementioned network elected not to go ahead, he got back into contact with the other two and they worked to complete it anyway.
The opening sequence, filmed in the chaotic early days of the pandemic, is as nightmarish as anything ever presented in a horror film and this time, one cannot merely think to themselves “It’s Only A Movie …” Hordes of cold, frightened, and potentially sick people are banging on the doors trying to get in, while an already overworked hospital staff tries to maintain some kind of order to prevent them from being completely overrun. Those workers are also forced to deal with a critical lack of resources—what is to be done when a patient is in imminent need of intubation but the equipment required to do so is not there? Pushed to the brink of exhaustion, these workers do everything in their power to take care of their patients, but it’s not always enough. This leads to a particularly devastating moment in which a woman is reduced to hysterics as she begs the doctors to let her see her just-deceased father one more time as his body is wheeled away. We then see shot of a box filled with the ID cards and phones of the dead—a stark reminder of the already-growing human cost.
After that, the film settles down and uses a fly-on-the-wall approach to chart the ways in which the hospital staff—as everyone is swathed in PPE, it is virtually impossible to tell people and their positions apart—tries to attend to their scared and confused patients with little rest other than to collapse in a nearby chair for a few minutes of respite. We see them as they do what they can to pass on messages to and from family members who cannot be there, and later contacting the families to tell them when their loved ones have passed in order to return their possessions. At one point, a woman arrives to deliver a baby by C-section and they have to tell her that not only is her husband not allowed to be with her, but that her child will have to remain in the hospital afterwards while they go into quarantine.