Contagion is a tense thriller showing the spread of a fast-moving, deadly virus across the globe. Bravely it attempts to hold your interest despite not having an identifiable “main character” and having lots of Science talk.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy had a big cast of notable actors, but Contagion takes it a step further. In no particular order Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston all have important roles. All the characters, often indirectly, influence each other; some disappear for prolonged periods and not all survive. This helps to make them all seem like small people unprepared for this huge emergency.
Although never a horror film, it managed to frighten me more then recent horror films. I could hear intakes of breath during some of the more unpleasant parts and the medical scenes don’t shy away from showing the gore. The recognisable bright lights of the labs and hospitals make it all the more uncomfortable. The use of light and colours is effective throughout. There’s a green and yellow tint that makes you think of things like mould, parasites and disease, even though I didn’t really notice it for a while. You can view this yourself without even seeing the film by looking at the posters that share this colour scheme.
The tagline is “Nothing spreads like fear” and whilst watching the film I definitely grew increasingly paranoid. Nearby coughs made me wonder about the condition of the coughing person and what they might’ve touched. It seems more believable as it was obviously extensively researched (apparently we touch our faces 3,000 times a day) and draws inspiration from the reaction to events like bird flu, SARS and hurricane Katrina.
Despite the amount of plot-points and characters, Contagion moves fast and fits much into its running time. It also stayed with me (beyond just the cough worrying) as I considered where I get my information. Jude Law plays a blogger who questions the government’s reaction to the situation. He makes several valid points but he also might be doing this to make money for himself. It’s interesting to consider the role that social media can play in spreading both information and misinformation.
Contagion works as a thriller that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Apart from the very end scene, which seems a bit surplus to requirements, it moves at a swift pace in order to pack in all its numerous different elements. It kept me engrossed and, not always necessarily for good considering the whole growing paranoia, the questions it raises have stayed on my mind since seeing it. But importantly, definitely do not see it if you are germaphobic.