CONTAGION, 2011

First, let me start by acknowledging that technically, this isn’t a horror movie.  However, since it does have elements of horror in it (sort of), as well as some Science Fiction (note the science part of that phrase) it qualifies to be reviewed here.  Plus, I just love end of the world movies, especially the kind with icky viruses.

The film’s premise is that an unknown virus makes its way into the population and starts killing off anyone who comes in contact with it — and by contact I mean any contact.  If you touch an infected person:  blammo.  You touch something an infected person has touched:  peace out.  If you breathe the air of an infected person:  well, you get the picture.  To add to the scare factor, you can’t really tell if someone is infected until they practically drop dead, so let’s just say you might want to stay home or encase yourself in plastic wrap — your choice really.

To add to the xenophobia instilled in you after about 20 minutes of the movie (and the distracting conscious effort to not touch your face), you are also treated to pretty inept governments and leaders who are virtually in absentia while millions of people are dying, looting, getting robbed, etc.  Which governments you may ask?  How about, oh, just all of them.  The movie may have made it seem like all of 12 people were working on the problem worldwide, but at least they didn’t just portray America as completely heartless and dumb this time, so that’s a plus.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the absurd amount of high-profile actors in the film because there are loads of ’em:  Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jude Law, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Now don’t get me wrong here, I like a lot of the actors in the movie and felt that pretty much all of them did a great job in the film.  Notable exception being Matt Damon, who, true to form, seems to be totally incapable of showing any emotion — ever.  Even Gwyneth Paltrow who I would probably want to throttle in real life, put in a great performance as (I am loath to admit) she usually does.

So to re-cap here’s what we have so far:  great premise, great cast and surprisingly (and thankfully) no overt Hollywood message.  So what’s not to love?  Well, just a few things actually.  First, from only seeing the previews of the movie, I was kind of hoping/expecting that they would take a bit of a broader approach to the threat of infectious diseases.  There were a few mentions of Bird Flu and such, but in terms of getting the point across about how serious of a threat we could really face, the film  came off a bit understated, even while they are throwing numbers of infected and dead at you like hot cakes.  I dunno, maybe I just need more gore.  Second, I’m not really sure what the point of the movie was.  Other than the fact that some freaky virus could wipe out tons of us pretty easily, I really didn’t get much else.

In the end, the movie felt like a documentary about an outbreak of horrible proportions, rather than an end of the world movie and I believe that was the intention.  There wasn’t a whole lot of human drama in it either, other than Matt Damon’s role and thanks to his “acting” style, he doesn’t elicit a lot of empathy.  I kept imagining his character as Gary Sinise though, and that got me through it okay.

So if you’re one of those people (like me) who is aware that the next plague could literally be right around the corner, this film will give you the heebies-jeebies. However, even the most hardened epidemiologist knows that while something like this is pretty likely at some point, life must go on — and unfortunately, it isn’t very easy living it in bubble wrap.  Therefore what I took from this movie was this:  sure, you might get some nasty killer virus from that Starbuck’s Mocha Frappuccino cup, but then again, you might not.  So what the hell, drink up.

STUPID NOTE:  Although I love Gary Sinise, I will never quite forgive him for making Mission:  Space at Disney World seem cool to ride.  After wishing for death on the ride, I learned the hard way that it is very not cool to feel like your brains are in a blender and set on ultra-puree.  Thanks for that Gary, I appreciate it man.  (Note #2 — this was before they opened the namby-pamby green side.  There was only one ride, and yes, I wished for death — albeit only briefly.)

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