September 12, 2011

Hypochondriac's Worst Nightmare

At this particular theatre, I was by myself. Flying solo. You know how it is. To that end, there were a few seats between me and the person next to me. About half way through the movie, right about where all the looting and chaos is going down, the person next to me coughed. I almost ran for my life! Why? Cuz Contagion got to me in a way a virus thriller never has. This is a smart, terrifying, absolutely believable piece of pandemic pandemonium. With strong performances, slick direction, and a chilling atmosphere, Contagion will convince you to never touch anything... or anyone... ever... again!

I've driven down that street before. 

Contagion starts off innocently enough, with a few coughs, and a sickly wife. Unfortunately, said sickly wife is infected with a virus that no one has ever seen. This virus makes the Motoba virus look like a mild hangover, and makes the Rage virus look like a tiny cold sore. Highly contagious, this new strain of bacterial death is soon rampaging around the world, quickly and efficiently killing with reckless abandon, and causing the effective shutdown of society. As various doctors attempt to find a vaccine, other players prepare to weather the storm. Because when a pandemic like this arises, the disease isn't even half as destructive as the fear it creates.

It's basically a hyper realistic Outbreak on a global scale... if Outbreak was, you know, good. Much like director Steven Soderbergh's own Traffic, Contagion is told from the perspective of multiple people, from CDC scientists, WHO personnel, military leaders, journalists, regular civilians, and... Sanjay Gupta? (Yeah. As if you needed reminding of how realistic this film is, Sanjay Gupta plays himself. Scary.) It works very well, giving us a true sense of the scale of the crisis, but some characters are, inevitably, underdeveloped. There's a WHO official who is sent to China to figure out where the pandemic came from, who is seen pretty extensively in the first thirty minutes, disappears for an hour, and then reappears out of nowhere in the final ten minutes. Some of the occurrences, unfortunately, come about because of one character doing something absurdly dumb, but, for the most part, the film moves along at a brisk pace, deftly moving from character to character, and painting an effective portrait of the collapse of society.

Again, like Traffic, the cast for Contagion is positively stacked! Among the star players is Matt Damon, very moving and strong as a father attempting to survive the chaos, Laurence Fishburne, damn good as a CDC director who does his best to control everything, Jude Law, oozing slime as a scumbag blogger, Marion Cotillard, doing her usual excellent work as a WHO worker who is tracking the spread of the disease, Kate Winslet, in fine form as a CDC field worker tasked with managing the quarantine, and Jennifer Ehle, excellent as a scientist working tirelessly to find a vaccine.

Everyone here turns in fine work, even people with little to no screen time, like John Hawkes or Elliot Gould. Sure, some of the people here don't have as much to work with as others; though the trailers would have you believe that Matt Damon is the main player, in reality, Laurence Fishburne's CDC director and Jennifer Ehle's scientist get the most screen time. It's no surprise that Gwyneth Paltrow's character gets offed by the virus in the first five minutes, since the marketing has been focusing on pretty much nothing else, and she's not the only one. At least one other major character bites the dust throughout the proceedings, so, you know. Keep that in mind. A-listers die in this movie. It's kinda cool.

What would Jason Bourne do?

Steven Soderbergh has created a very, and I mean almost scary, convincing picture of a modern day black plague. The amount of detail in the screenplay and in the production is disturbingly realistic, so much so that the first thing I did was run out of the theatre and get my ass to the nearest CVS to stock up on Purell. The images of looting, of impromptu treatment centers set up in high school gyms, of mass graves in major American cities, it all adds up to a really freaky two hours.

Also, there are multiple images of the deserted, trash strewn, San Francisco streets, which, you know, kinda hit close to home... literally!

It also doesn't hurt that there are some really disgusting scenes! Ick!

Soderbergh really goes all out with the whole, "Touch anything and you're screwed" mentality that this film is pushing. He will eloquently pause to focus on the recently touched wine glass, or pari of dice, or doorknob, or pole on a bus, or anything on which germs could thrive. And it works! Even in the end, when (SPOILERS) the virus appears to be beaten and society begins to rebuild, the tension is still there, because it's so damn potent for the rest of the thing. Let me tell ya. I did not stop holding my breath until the credits started rolling. Even in the last scene, that shows a couple in each other's arms, I was still gripping my arm rest. It's the mark of well made and truly scary thriller where, even in the happy scenes, you are still on edge.

And, just so there's no confusion about the matter, Contagion is an exceptional thriller. Boasting great performances, strong atmosphere, and a scarily realistic mindset, this is a virus flick to outdo all other virus flicks. Forget Outbreak. 28 Days Later... can sit in a corner and weep. This is the creme de la creme of this particularly awesome sub genre. Don't touch anything! Wash your hands! And if you hear someone starting to cough or if someone looks particularly pale, RUN! YOUR! ASS! OFF!!!

You'll thank me later.


  1. Sounds like even a mild case of germaphobia will find this hard to sit through; harder still to go on with a normal life after. Thanks Soderbergh.

  2. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review. Check out my review when you get a chance!

  3. "It's the mark of well made and truly scary thriller where, even in the happy scenes, you are still on edge."

    Love this sentence - very well put and true. I kept worrying that something would happen to the girl until the end, convinced that she was doomed.

    Big fan of Soderbergh working in this arena. None do it better.

  4. A bit too many story lines to become entirely engrossed - still enjoyed bits and pieces of the film.

    Nice review Sebastian.