Short Reviews: Contagion (2011)


Contagion poster
If you’ve ever needed more of an excuse to buy a bottle of Dettol, look no further than this movie.

Starting on an enigmatic “Day 2” and tracking a paranoia-inducing montage of surfaces that people touch with their hands and share with other people’s contact, Contagion launches into the most intelligent disaster movie out there, only instead of rogue weather or giant lizards, it’s a virus.

Stephen Soderbergh is one of the more serious-minded directors out there who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and is exactly the person a story like this needs. Not once is there a scene that’s played with overdramatics to provide a suitable hook for the trailer, not once is there a scene that says, “Oooh look, this could actually happen.”

It’s dramatic, and it could happen, and part of the reason this film is so effective – and so goddamn scary – is that everything is done with a sense of realism and accuracy. There are no black-and-white characters that only do good or evil (at best they do as much as they can, at worst, the “evil” character of the film is just particularly obnoxious and opportunistic) and there’s no race-to-the-plot-point scripting.

Instead we’re given an (impeccably cast) ensemble of characters that each deal with the pandemic in their own way, from their own perspectives and with their own motives. It’s not hokey, it’s not overplayed, it’s calm and realistic and brilliantly executed.

Put it this way, when Character #472 dies in a Roland Emmerich film, have you ever actually cared? Well, in Contagion you do, because they’ve died trying to stop a crisis situation from getting worse, and as a result of their work they’ve been infected – their death is derived from the story and their involvement in it, not jut being in an unfortunate place at an inconvenient time.

I’ll list a few faults – Jude Law’s accent is weird, and I can’t tell if he thinks he’s doing an Australian one. Also, it goes on a little too long towards the end, but even then I’ll forgive that for being so gripping beforehand.

This film has the same kind of tension and weight that’s present all throughout The China Syndrome, only focussed much more on how unstoppable a situation like this would be and how much worse it gets before it gets better.

I was really impressed by this film. I think it’s one of the scariest and most serious-minded films I’ve come across in a while. Check it out immediately.

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3 thoughts on “Short Reviews: Contagion (2011)

  1. Really enjoyed this movie! Loathed Jude Law in it but ‘The Holiday’ excepted, I rather loathe him anyway

    It’s also nice to have a disaster movie with a real live possible disaster for once. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me

    If the character you’re vaguely referencing as #472 is the one I’m thinking of, I was quite gutted when that character died. Or was shown to be dead, I suppose. Done well, done effectively and done, as you’ve said, entirely realistically

    There’s no such thing as a three second rule, kids!

    • Character #472 is referring to Emmerich’s broad use of characters who you don’t care about – but in Contagion, it’s a specific character I’m referring to.

      Also, I totally didn’t recognise Jennifer Ehle in this until halfway through! Actually thought to myself, “must text Bec!”

      • And I suspect your character is my character, as it was so unexpected in movie terms but utterly (sadly) standard in epidemiological ones

        Also, I KNOW! As in The King’s Speech, I suddenly went “HANG ON…!”

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