Contagion: movie review

imageA lethal bug spirals out of control in a chillingly authentic disaster movie from Steven Soderbergh.

What’s the story?
An encounter in Hong Kong transmits a virus that rapidly spreads. At the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff race to contain the disease before it destroys everyone.

What did we think?
An apocalyptic scenario is handled with intelligence and restraint in a movie that will make you think twice the next time you reach for a door handle or an elevator button. But the all-star cast is a bit of distraction, while the endless globe-trotting could leave you suffering from jetlag.

Thanks to films like Outbreak, Twelve Monkeys and The Andromeda Strain, we’re all aware of the havoc a deadly virus could potentially wreak. Yet because those stories were presented in a thriller or sci-fi context, it was possible to distance ourselves and view them as vicarious entertainments.

In Contagion, though, Steven Soderbergh takes a different tack. If a life-threatening pandemic were to occur, this is probably how it would happen, how it would spread and how it would be tackled. With scenes of the afflicted coughing up blood, having seizures before being disposed of in mass graves, Contagion is not without scenes of visceral horror. Yet it’s its clinical matter-of-factness that is the film’s most terrifying feature, writer Scott Z Burns suggesting it’s the simple things – the genial handshake, the tempting bar snack – that we should most be wary of.

If there’s a problem here, it’s that there are so many familiar faces and different areas of activity that it makes it difficult to keep track of who’s who and what’s happening where. It’s refreshing, though, to note that stardom is no guarantee of salvation, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow proving equally vulnerable to this silent, insidious menace.

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