It all started with a bat. Unfortunately, not of the man variety.
Be prepared to freak out a little more when your next cold strikes. When it does, you’ll have Steven Soderbergh’s new biological drama Contagion to thank. At the very least, shifty eyes will occur to the next poor sod whom sniffs or coughs.
The disease in question inflicts seizures, frothing at the mouth, and radical damage to the central nervous system. The bodies pile up worldwide as an expert team of scientists and government officials frantically search for a cure, quarantine the infected and keep a population in panic from violently revolting.
The performances, as you’d expect from actors of this calibre, are fantastic. Therefore this section is extensive, as is the star-studded cast. First to the good. Matt Damon as the immune average Joe whose family and life crumbles in a matter of minutes is touching, as the protection of his remaining daughter becomes the sole reason for existence. Gwyneth Paltrow’s role as Damon’s cheating wife, illustrating the horrific symptoms as one of the first cases, is cleverly manipulated as the catalyst for the forthcoming events and ties it together seamlessly. Laurence Fishburne plays Dr. Ellis Sheever straight laced and determined to bring the virus down, working alongside Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) who sacrifices her own safety in the name of science. In his desperation Sheever brings in Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an expert on epidemics and refreshingly blunt.
Now the not-so fantastic. Marion Cotilliard is Dr. Leanora Orantes, whose kidnapping is mainly the only significant event to happen to this character. Unfortunately she is underutilised, and her storyline is left gaping open. At one point I actively forgot the character existed, having not made an appearance on the screen for at least half an hour. Jude Law makes an appearance as well as cockney Alan Krumweide, technologically rebelling against the scientists and touting his own remedy. Found it impossible to warm to this character, even moreso as time progresses. Maybe it was just the rotten tooth he was sporting, but there is something entirely unsavoury about him.
And I think that’s just about the lot of them. Take a breath. Continue.
Contagion hinges on realism. The thrills come from the notion that this, should a similar event occur, could be the actual protocol. Scarier still is the day count that appears in each new sequence, illustrating how quickly viruses can spread, and how rapid bodies pile up.
The cinematography is bleak and desaturated when the outbreak emerges, making it feel sterile and generally horrible. Effective when what you’re seeing is mass graves and more people sniffling than a hay fever sufferer at Floriade.
About three-quarters of the way through the film loses its pace. Loses something. You start twiddling your thumbs and looking elsewhere. I am aware that this film is not one resulting to cheap thrills or explosions to gain your attention, however the story needed to progress a little quicker.
By far the highlight of this film is its conclusion. It’s realistic. It’s not over-exaggerated, nobody screams in anguish or triumph. The cycle is sewn up tight in a neat little package, bringing completion to the film by beginning it. The initial symptoms are all ones we’ve seen and experienced before. Coughing, sneezing, general signs that we are not perfect specimens. God help the unfortunate individual who sees this film whilst afflicted with a cold.
You’ll be washing your hands a little more vigorously after this one.
This review was by Danielle Muir.