Early on in Contagion, a very famous actress suffers a nasty – not to mention brisk – fate via a virus that triggers a worldwide pandemic.
It’s a bold statement of intent from director Steven Soderbergh: beware, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and for that matter the rest of humanity; Uncle Steve’s got you in his disaster movie sights and is prepared to unleash all-out Germageddon...
Only Contagion’s not half as much fun as it sounds. For all its pre-release promise of global panic and societal breakdown, what we get, in fact, is a sober bug procedural zoned in on the various doctors, administrators and viral investigators out to identify and stop the airborne serial killer in its microscopic tracks.
As you’d expect from the Oscar-winning director of Traffic, Soderbergh is skilled at teasing out the story through multiple characters and casual connections, handling the queasy rush to develop a vaccine with scientific rigour and cool detachment.
In eschewing the gaudy trappings that usually go hand in hand with Earth-wide calamity, Soderbergh has crafted a film that’s low-key, unsensationalised and honourable. It’s like the antidote to a bad case of Emmerich-itis, and probably an accurate depiction of how such an outbreak would pan out.
Which makes it more frightening, on an insidious, cerebral level, but something of a disappointment as a visceral viewing experience.
Call us sadists or gluttons for punishment, but we would have been happier with a bit more foaming-at-the-mouth catastrophe and less epidemiologist hand-wringing.