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Contagion DVD review


Don't touch that dial. In fact, don't touch anything...

Contagion (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet) on DVD

Although it was marketed as a thriller, Steven Soderbergh's Contagion left audiences tenser than most horror films of 2011. It wasn’t monsters lurking in the shadows that scared them though; they were scared of each other; every cough, sneeze and sniffle. There is a definite focus on human contact in Contagion; one man coughs on his hand and opens a door, and the shot lingers on the door until someone else touches it.

The germ-phobic story starts with Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning from a business trip in Hong Kong, and so begins the spread of the disease. Meanwhile we follow a few different plot strands, centring around struggling father Mitch (Matt Damon) trying to keep his daughter from being infected by keeping her under slightly excessive house-arrest, and the attempts of the government and doctors, superintended by Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) to both contain the epidemic and find a cure against the clock.

Around this are a few other stories, including conspiracy nut Allan (Jude Law) trying to pedal his snake-oil cure to make easy money, Dr Leonora Orantes’ (Marion Cotillard) being kidnapped by a small village in the hope of being the first to acquire a cure, and Dr Mears’ (Kate Winslet) attempts to contain the virus, and organise a quarantine.

The whole film has a sickly greenish tinge to it (right down to the WB logo at the beginning), and Soderbergh includes a lot of nice artistic touches. Deserted towns and cities, along with mass graves bring to mind the famously bleak opening to 28 Days Later. The whole film however is more reminiscent of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ (in particular the 1994 TV miniseries) where, at first, the scariest thing in it is the rapid spread of the disease. Contagion does a considerably better  job of capturing that enjoyably moody and desolate atmosphere.

The growing sense of dread is helped by the realism with which Soderbergh has chosen to frame the film. It doesn’t fall into the trap of lazily calling the military as the big-bad organisation as the main threat of the film. Unusually, science is somewhat of a hero, in the struggle to find a cure for the disease, and the nearest thing to a villainous role is filled by a combination of Jude Law’s exploitative conspiracy theorist, and the scared and angry mob.

While Contagion ticks most of the boxes for a good horror/thriller, Soderbergh falls a little short in his handling of such a long list of big-name stars. While he managed to pull it off before in the Oceans 11 franchise, here many roles, in particular those of Marion Cotillard, are given nowhere near enough screen time - in favour of less interesting plot-lines (such as Jude Law’s slightly irritating blogger-striving-for-truth). That said, it is well above average, both in terms of acting and direction.

A fast-paced animated short, about the spread of viruses and disease. It’s a nice, stylish add-on, but doesn’t make up for the lack of a potentially interesting commentary track, or full-length featurette.

4 stars

Contagion is available to buy now (UK link).


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