steven soderbergh

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)


I don’t know exactly what I expected when I sat down to watch CONTAGION but having seen the trailer and seeing all the big names attached to it I think the final product was close to my expectations. There are several very alarming aspects that the film depicts but overall I feel like it should have stuck with one or two of its central plotlines rather than adhering to such a massive amount of different stories. Each different character has interesting moments, it just becomes a bit much to deal with at times.

CONTAGION’s plot is nothing more than the emergence of an extremely fatal disease and the rapid spread of that disease in a short period of time. The film follows several different stories of people handling the disease from a dad dealing with his wife and young son contracting the disease and dying while he himself is immune and trying to keep his daughter from getting it, medical experts searching for a cure and all the way to a blogger causing a stir by reporting on conspiracies surrounding the disease and possible cure.

The film is very well done despite the vast amount of different storylines weaver throughout. I never got lost or bored by any story in particular, I just feel like adhering to one or two of the many stories could have engaged me a little more. I realize though that to tell a story on such a massive scale and the logistics of telling this type of story that keeping people all in one place would be hard so on that level the film does a great job at incorporating all of the main stories together while some of the side ones seemed a little less important and a waste of time.

The performances are all pretty decent- Kate Winslett and Matt Damon being the strongest of them. It’s pretty tough to come down and say anyone is particularly memorable though since they each only get a few minutes of screen time every ten minutes or so as it switches from one story to another, sometimes crossing paths. The more emotional aspects of the film come from Damon since he’s one of the only reoccurring characters that have an emotional story arc where as the rest only have one or two moments where the tragedy of what is happening truly affects them.

CONTAGION is a film that I don’t find particularly scary as far as the execution of its material- I do however find the plausibility of its premise and execution very frightening. What I mean is that there’s nothing about the film that will scare you on the visceral thrill level but on a psychological level it’s terrifying because the way the disease plays out seems perfectly capable of happening. What’s even more frightening is that I don’t have the confidence that in real life practicality that our medical community could solve the problem all that quickly. The scattering of resources and medical mumbo jumbo sound realistic- I’m no medical prodigy though so I’d take that with a grain of salt.

The script for the most part is decent though at times it makes the film seem like somewhat of a schlocky B-Movie. There’s a scene early on where medical examiners are cutting open a skull of a corpse that was killed by the disease and what they see prompts one of the examiners to furiously tell his partner to leave and when asked if he should call someone he replies, “Call everyone.” Its little things such as that which made me laugh pretty heartily because I immediately imagine the literal logistics of that line. Beyond those moments there are a lot of very engaging moments that are born from the political ramifications of characters actions, the human drama of other plotlines and the real life medical red flags and consequences that such a disease could set in motion.

Lastly, I loved the score of this film. Cliff Martinez created a score that often makes the film feel like a horror film while also making it even more entertaining to watch from scene to scene. The music also gives the film a bit of an old school horror vibe with the dark synth tones but at the same time a bit of a sci fi edge to it as well. All the while with everything going down the film is comprised mostly of dramatic tension between grieving families, stumped medical experts, a sleazy blogger and the panic of the millions of citizens feeling the fear of what could happen to them at any second.

Steven Soderbergh has proven himself to be a skilled director in the art of the ensemble film and CONTAGION is no exception. However, I would argue that the ensemble nature of the film is one of the movie’s weaker aspects because it becomes difficult to connect with any one character in a story as frighteningly plausible as something like a disease epidemic that’s killing mass quantities of the world’s population. CONTAGION is a great depiction of the big picture created by the situation but I couldn’t help but feel there is a much more powerful personal story that could have been fleshed out and had a greater effect. Soderbergh’s film looks and feels like a prequel to the underrated viral thriller CARRIERS though CONTAGION has a much larger scope but accomplishes similar goals as far as the horror of our vulnerability to disease. I believe that CONTAGION is a film that will birth legions of new germaphobes and one that will send existing germaphobes into a state of absolute panic by how plausible the events in the film could be.

Rating: 7/10