Contagion (2011) – Steven Soderbergh (Dir.), Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, that guy from Just Shoot Me, John Hawkes, Dmitry Martin… pretty much everyone ever
Notice how everyone looks normal except for G-Palt who has on possessed-fucked-up face.
What is a horror film? What constitutes terror on the silver screen? Is it some large-breasted sophomore screaming something between bloody murder and a regular night at the frat house while, instead of prime Ivy League sausage, she’s being impaled with a knife, or a hook, or a machete or a pick axe or a tire iron…I guess. Or is it something else? There’s frightening and there’s scary. There are things that make you feel uneasy as the music swells, as the camera dips into a darkness only reserved for back-alley senatorial meetings in a public restroom. You know death and pain is coming, the only question is when. It does, inevitably. You jump a little. Maybe it’s a little more grotesque than you were expecting, sure. Maybe you wander from the movie theater and double check your Minnie Mouse night light before heading to bed. That’s ‘horror’.
And there are movies like this. They pray on intellect, on the human nature of taking civilization for granted. There are no vampires, no werewolves, no teenage girls biting her lip and trying to decide between the two. There are no hockey masks. There are no girls crawling out of movie screens and creating the surrealist movement across some poor schmuck filmmaker’s face (go see The Ring. It’s great). No, there is simply an idea. A virus. We’ve never seen it before and it spreads. Everywhere. The scenario put forth by this film cuts under the skin, burrowing into the grey matter, planting as Leo DiCaprio would say “an idea, something that can’t be killed”. And even he can’t leap into your brain and stop the top from spinning.
Here she is making the “Hey, I just remembered, I’m Gwyneth Fucking Paltrow” face.
This is true horror. This is the kind of film that undercuts everything you’ve ever assumed about your existence. Now I question my safety whenever someone sneezes, shakes my hand, touches my face, makes out with me, rubs my thigh, starts to unbutton…wait, wrong movie. Point is: everything will kill you.
You’ve heard of Steven Soderbergh. Even if you haven’t, you have. The guy is everywhere and yet nowhere. Like a ghost. Sometimes he’s a good one like in Harry Potter or that movie with the ghost played by Patrick Swayze in it that gropes Demi Moore in the middle of a perfectly good pot-making session and gets Whoopi Goldberg a fucking oscar. It’s all about ghosts. You know, The Exorcist. Sometimes Mr. Soderbergh makes Ocean’s 11 and Sex, Lies and Videotape. And then, sometimes, he makes Full Frontal and Ocean’s 12. Sometimes he’s a different kind of ghost, the one that reaches into your body and rips out your soul while you’re in the bath or makes clowns come alive or steals your children through televisions. Like in that one movie, Babe: Pig in the City.
Well, we lucked out here. Apparently he called EVERYONE he knew and told them, “Hey assholes, be in my movie.” Who do we have? We have the bad lady from Inception taking a break from haunting Leo DiCaprio and instead helping children in China. We have that lady who hogged that last piece of broken boat at the end of Titanic before knocking frozen popsicle-Leo into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. She’s doing a serviceable American accent, which is nice. We have Dr. Watson being a douchebag with an Aussie accent. We have Morpheus basically playing black-scientist Jesus, a man so impervious to bad things that he NEVER does anything wrong EVER. Like…seriously, it’s ridiculous. He’s just a nice dude. The list continues…even the meth dealer from Breaking Bad shows up, having entered the military to simply spout exposition.
Finally, we have the arguable star: Mr. Matt Damon. Taking time away from saying ‘MATT DAMON’ and being an all around stand-up guy, he becomes that character who’s immune. Sporting a pedo-stache and a shotgun, he goes around protecting his daughter and crying over his dead wife. He’s excellent in this film and yet, for his wonderful chops (and good acting skills too…see what I did there? I’m saying he’s a pretty dude, people. And look at him…he’s adorable) he is entirely upstaged by Mrs. Coldplay herself, G-Palt.
Here she is making the, “I dated Ben Affleck? Really?” face.
Oh Gwyneth. Did you lose a bet? Owe Soderbergh money for some high-stakes murder challenge that you rich people inevitably enjoy between ridiculing the poor and causing legal disputes with your children’s names? She’s in the film alive for all of ten minutes. We see her with a fever. And then have seizures. Then puke everywhere. Then, after a doctor nonchalantly divulges that she fucking died, you think the pretty-woman-puke-fest is over. Oh kids, strap in, the fun has only just begun. We get to see them OPEN HER HEAD. She’s sitting right there with her head fucking open. I imagine Mr. Soderbergh resting in his director’s chair, supping on the blood of the innocent while chasing it with holy water (man is a dichotomy, it’s mind-boggling) ordering “More pus. Also, when you crack open her skull I want to see more disgust. Like when you heard Coldplay’s last album for the first time. Yep, that’s it! ACTION.”
This film is good. Not great. It never quite elevated itself above “disease-porn”, a subgenre only really applicable to this and Outbreak. At least we didn’t have fucking monkeys and Dustin Hoffman set to ‘crazy rant-speak mode’. At least there was no ‘WE HAVE TO FIND THE MONKEY THAT STARTED IT ALL’ bullshit and then miraculously manufacture a cure within THREE HOURS. My dad is a pharmacist. I call bullshit. This movie really set out to deal with the real-world implications of how this kind of epidemic might manifest in the times of international travel and massive city congestion. Even more appropriate that I watched it on a plane (making it actually 27% worse than it is in reality. Not bad, right?). Yes, there are some absurd sequences. No, a researcher wouldn’t simply inject herself with a vaccine the second she sees it work on a monkey. No, Dmitry Martin is not allowed to do anything other than smug twee comedy after hours on Comedy Central. I don’t want that man anywhere near an infectious disease.
This is the face she makes every time she remembers she was in “Shallow Hal”.
It fulfilled its purpose. Mr. Soderbergh, as he so often does, defined his thesis and then proved it to the best of his ability. Of course the ending is trite shite. At least it begs thoughtfulness, actually considering the effects of such an outbreak on a global scale rather than keeping it entirely USA-centric. Granted…we didn’t really see anything from the other countries other than about twenty seconds of London and the Chinese guys who kidnap Cotillard in exchange for a vaccine. Still…they get points for trying, right? Right? The World Health Organization was mentioned a couple of times. And the bad guy had an Australian accent.
Good job, guys. Your multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-national attempt burned and sank to the bottom of the xenophobic sea, settling next to wonders such as Deep Impact (not the porn, the one with Morgan Freeman as president) and Independence Day. At least you tried. Maybe next time.