Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law
One should approach 'Contagion' as a horror film. Not unlike countless other horror films 'Contagion' plays on our fear of the unseen. Think of seeing a shadowy figure in the background or doors opening, seemingly of their own accord. Soderbergh masterfully toys with this innate fear. We become tense at the sight of someone coughing, exchanging money, or shaking hands. To simply call this a genre exercise completely undermines the quality of the film and depth of research that went into making this minor classic. I won't get into the level of authenticity in this love letter but a good article can be found here
We quickly learn and understand that a global pandemic is substantially more terrifying than any monster, ghost, or demon. 'Contagion' is affecting. Not in a way that keeps you up at night and scared of what's in the shadows. It affects you in your daily life as you shake someones hand or worry about how many times you put your hands to your face without washing them. In essence, you become a caricature of Woody Allen.
Soderbergh invests massive amounts of time in the handling of such a pandemic by the CDC and global health organizations. We take time to learn about the effects of such a virus on families and how life shattering an unexpected death can be. We spend time getting to know a blogger whose amassed legions of fans due to his wild conspiracy theories and how people can put stock in someone they would generally dismiss when they aren't given enough information. These decisions ground us in reality and give us emotional anchors in which to cling or possibly even HOPE. All the while people start to get sick and die. In as little as 2 to 3 weeks we are panicked and all of our worst characteristics start to show. We slowly start to lose our sense of community, loot, steal, kill, and look for someone to blame for our misfortune. Most of the time we blame the people trying the hardest to help.
Soderbergh isn't one to just dip his toe into a genre. He explores what is interesting and unique about them while not being a slave to the conventions. 'Contagion' isn't just a great "horror" film, it's a great film. It belongs in the same discussion with films such as 'Don't Look Now' (Ebert's review) and 'Rosemary's Baby'. Films that rise above their cinematic brethren and elevate the discussion of an entire "genre".
"Bloggers are graffiti artist with punctuation". -Elliot Gould (Contagion)