Our Friend the Immune System is one classy act. When the waiter sticks his finger in your water glass right after picking his nose, it’s up to the old I.S. to stomp down those norovirus germs and keep you from sniffling. When you pluck a luscious melon wrapped in prosciutto from the appetizer bar at the wedding you attended where the bride was from Colorado but unfortunately so was the cantaloupe, you hope it will be ready to take on the Listeria that is sure to follow. But some things are bigger than Vitamin C and Purell, so when that bitch Gwyneth Paltrow cheats on her saintly husband Matt Damon on the way back from Hong Kong and infects the entire city with an unknown virus, you may as well just kiss your ass goodbye because this thing is going viral.

So begins Contagion, a horror movie more terrifying than anything that involves zombies or vampires. This film is for the hypochondriac that lurks within all of us, as we consider the very real possibility of what will happen when one of those bird flu-like viruses goes mutant. You know it’s going to be bad when Gwyneth dies within the first ten minutes, and then they peel her face back during the autopsy. When even the Academy Award winners are being treated this way, you know they aren’t going to pull any punches.

The movie is directed by Steven Soderbergh and follows six different stories that intersect as the epidemic spreads across the globe. A top-notch cast of name above the title actors doesn’t guarantee anyone’s survival, and the tension is palatable as the close-ups of people touching doorknobs and bus seats makes you start to shrink away from the person sitting next to you. About halfway through the movie I suddenly remembered that I had to take the el home, and I had a tiny freak out. The film is almost clinical in its approach, showing little emotion as a countdown records the number of days it takes for millions to die. It focuses on the government’s search for the source of the virus and a vaccine while casually showing shots of people looting and knocking each other down to get the fake antidotes that are being hawked on the internet by an unscrupulous blogger played by Jude Law. You can tell he’s unscrupulous by how bad his teeth are. Clearly bloggers are going to be the bad guys here when this scenario actually happens, so don’t trust any of us.

I was beginning to wonder if I had somehow contracted the virus right through the movie screen because I was starting to have the same symptoms as the carriers. Then I realized that Soderbergh was using a hand-held camera to show the final hours of the victims, and for the first time ever I was grateful for shaky-cam nausea. It’s been so long since a movie made me sick that I almost didn’t recognize the feeling. It certainly enhances the experience, though, when you expect at any moment that you’re going to have a seizure and go down with the rest of them. I am very grateful that they didn’t decide to film this one in 3D.

I find this type of movie far scarier than any Freddie Kruger flick, because these are the kind of scenarios that keep me awake at night. The film is well-acted with taut editing and edge of your seat tension and teaches us one of the most important things a well-directed thriller can: Stop touching your face!

Barf Bag Rating: TWO BAGS
Jalapeño Pepper Rating: ZERO PEPPERS

2 thoughts on “Contagion

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