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September 25, 2011


(2011, Dir. by Steven Soderbergh.)

Why hello there, Ms. Kate Winslet.  It's good to hear from you again!  Why yes, I would like to take this conversation somewhere more private...but uh, ummm....well, my readers are here.  You understand, don't you?, I do not have a date for the Oscars yet.  Of course I'll call you later!  OK, darling, we'll catch up soon.


Contagion is one of those movies that's not really a horror movie but at the same time is a movie that preys on real world issues.  There are people out there who are afraid of diseases and such being transmitted by those pesky germs we all here about, but a lot of us don't really care to think about that too much.  In general, most of us save our big fears for things that aren't realistic, and we look for horror in that...not in a medical thriller.  Contagion knows this and acknowledges this, with Winslet's character making a quip about people being more afraid of "a plastic shark in a movie" than a warning on a pack of cigarettes. And she's got a point - because this movie is so grounded in reality that we don't even think to call it a horror movie.  Despite its genre confusion, I'm covering Contagion here anyway - and not just because my future companion Ms. Kate Winslet tells me to.

No, I'm speaking of this film because Contagion is clearly a movie for the masses that pillaged the horror genre a few times during its production.  The film follows the spread of an infectious disease, MEV-1, which derives from bats (kinda like vampirism) and is capable of striking down anyone quickly.  This means that - like the best slasher films - anyone can die at any time.  No, really.  Just watch the trailer. Yep, that's a dead Gwyneth Paltrow.  Nope, she does not come back from the dead.  And she's not the only big name who doesn't survive.

No one else - from star to extra - comes back from the dead in Contagion either, which means that it often feels like a zombie film without zombies.  Some of the most exciting moments of the film show society breaking down completely, and people who are desperate to save themselves and their families doing criminal, violent things in the name of survival.  These mobs also leave a few population centers - primarily San Francisco and Minneapolis - looking like a post apocalyptic wasteland at times, with several scenes reminding me of grim recent genre films like Children of Men and 28 Days Later.  As you can see, it's easy to draw parallels between Contagion and the lessons we learn from horror films (yes naysayers, they DO exist), but that's really not what this film's about.  I suppose we could argue the semantics of whether or not the film is a horror film and what exactly a horror film is or isn't all day, but I'd prefer we just stick to talking about this movie.

The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, and the versatile filmmaker's fingerprints are all over the film's presentation.  Colors jump off the screen as a pulsating musical score serves as the film's heartbeat, which makes it really easy to get caught up in the film's style.  The idea behind Contagion - mainly that a new virus could spring up and shake the world's societies completely - is a riveting one in its own right, but Soderbergh's vision certainly helps keep the viewer involved with the film.  Soderbergh's also assisted in carrying his film by an A-List cast that features no less than 8 Oscar nominees.  Some of these stars are more difficult to buy in their roles than others (Jude Law as a millionaire blogger is a little less convincing than Winslet as a doctor or Laurence Fishburne as a wise authority figure, for example), but each of them brings something different to the film.

With so many known actors playing characters that take the film in different directions, Contagion's plot becomes a web that resembles the spread of the deadly virus.  This becomes one of the few things about the film that I wanted to nitpick as plot points began to wrap up in the final act, because there's far more going on in Contagion than can possibly be contained in 100 minutes.  There were times when I wanted some of the plot threads - like Marion Cottilard's World Health Organization official who was trapped in Hong Kong or Law's power hungry blogger - to just go away so I could get more of the sciencey stuff from Fishburne & Winslet's crew or more of Matt Damon coping with the virus and trying to survive the iuncreasingly looted Minneapolis.

The film struggles to fit all its characters into the film, which leaves some of the questions that it raises unanswered.  There aren't any giant gaping plot holes to be found, but as the film bounces from day to day it seems like it needs to cut thematic corners at times.  My mind was often racing, wondering how come there wasn't more discussion of how many people were immune to the virus (one character is, and that's about it), or discussion of how other cities dealt with the catastrophic effects of people freaking out over the virus.  Instead of getting too in depth with these plot points, Contagion seems content to keep certain parts of the film's message attached to individual characters, which does leave some details of each character's journey off screen for large parts of the film.  With so much tied up into such a short film, I get the feeling that there's a much longer version of Contagion somewhere out there - and I'd be very interested to see it.

These concerns are mostly minor ones, because I was sucked into the film from the beginning.  In fact, some of these concerns probably came up because I was so involved in the movie and wanted to see more of the fear-based chaos that it alluded to.  Soderbergh and company have great control over where they want Contagion to go, and the result is a well-made and intelligent thriller that should have something for everyone.  Maybe it's not quite a horror movie, but the scary side of Contagion helps make it one of the better movies I've seen this year.

1 comment:

LJRich said...

I thought every single person in this film looked like holy hell. Even when they weren't supposed to be sick, yet, they looked TERRIBLE. Gwyneth Paltrow was GREEN for crying out loud. And poor Matt Damon (mmmm Matt Damon.....ahem) was all puffy like he had had a severe sinus cold for the entire film. Maybe they wanted everyone to look fat and sick and.....well they got their wish cus it was TRAGIC.

I enjoyed the film itself though.