Under Review: ‘Contagion’


The scariest films to me are not those that choose to show you the blood and gore, it is those that plant an idea in your mind like a virus in a host and the idea germinates until it envelopes you. I have always said that the mind is far scarier than anything we can see on screen, and although I stand by that “Contagion” comes pretty darn close.

When business woman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a business trip to Hong Kong, she is feeling under the weather. Within 24 hours, she is on the floor having a seizure and dies at the hospital soon after. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) is in shock and perplexed. How could this have happened to her? We start to see various locations around the globe and people from every walk of life, ethnicity and social standing begin to become infected and fall prey to this unrelenting new disease. The doctors don’t know what to call it or treat it.

Within a few days, new clusters of outbreaks pop up all over the world and quickly the C.D.C. and the government get involved. As the death toll begins to rise, we follow various people throughout their struggles and interactions with this deadly foe. We see an Internet blogger (Jude Law) who has his own conspiracy theories about where the virus comes from and he spreads his message to anyone who will listen. The head of the C.D.C. (Laurence Fishburne) is frantically searching for answers and has a brilliant scientist (Jennifer Ehle) working to find a cure. An officer (Kate Winslet) is sent out into the field to investigate and track down ground zero for this outbreak. A World Health Organization official (Marion Cotillard) is busy tracking the virus back to its source as well as Department of Homeland Security officer (Enrico Colantoni) who is trying to figure out if this is an attack with a biological weapon.

As the disease spreads and the death toll rises into the hundreds of thousands, it becomes apparent that this epidemic could soon rival and even surpass the Spanish Flu, which killed 3 percent of the world’s population in 1918. The clock is ticking and time is running out as panic breaks loose and social chaos begins to sweep the United States and the world. Can the human race be saved before we are wiped off the face of the Earth by this microscopic foe?

“Contagion” — a chilling depiction of a disease outbreak which turns into a detective story — is part horror and part thriller. It is a stark look at a possible future that could easily occur and is bone-chillingly plausible. With a brilliant script by Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and unrelenting direction by Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans’s Eleven” and “Traffic”), “Contagion” is tense and scary as we watch the disease spread via contact. The camera pans in as someone coughs and then grabs their martini glass, than the waiter picks it up, the waiter goes home, his girlfriend is there and so on. This is what makes this film stomach-churningly scary, the fear of not knowing who you are coming in contact with and where they have been. They tell you repeatedly in the film that the average person touches their face 3,000 times a day; this movie will make you a little bit paranoid and those who are already hypochondriacs might be fainting in the theater. It will make even those who aren’t paranoid or a germa-phobe reconsider where they go and who they touch.

The film is perfectly acted and because this is an ensemble cast that switches back-and-forth between different countries and those affected, there isn’t a lot of screen time given to any particular actor. One of the standout performances is given by Damon, who loses his wife at the beginning of the film and then does everything he can to protect his daughter. He learns that he is immune but has the burden of watching society decay around him as he struggles to keep his daughter safe. Another performance I really connected with was that of Jennifer Ehle as the scientist working for the C.D.C. to unravel the virus and break it down to find a cure. She was stoic and strong and took many personal risks that could potentially save millions. The cast as a whole worked to weave a thrilling tale of hope in the form of civil servants, researchers, physicians and everyday people doing their very best to contain this deadly plague that sweeps the nation and threatens to destroy the world as we know it. Also starring in “Contagion” are Bryan Cranston, Sanaa Lathan, Elliot Gould, Chin Han, John Hawkes, Demetri Martin and Armin Rohde.

It is very rare in an apocalyptic movie to see the government agencies portrayed in such a positive light and not as evil or oppressive. There are those looking to make money off of the outbreak at first, but overall we see governments the world over working together to find a cure and get it to their people. This is a fast-paced script with few dull moments. It is sure to infect those who see it with a new awareness of the physical world around them.

After seeing “Contagion,” I immediately wanted to go wash my hands and stock-up on hand sanitizer and avoid public places. Is that me being a bit paranoid? Probably, but after seeing the results of a very likely scenario put onscreen, you will consider your daily routine and how you could avoid coming into contact with this or any other virus or disease. I am telling you to go see this eerie and sometimes cringe-worthy film, I promise your outlook on the world will be altered.

In theaters now, “Contagion” is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and mild language.

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