REVIEW: Thriller 'Contagion' Stokes Fears, Then Fizzles

If “Jaws” kept you out of the water, “Contagion” will keep you quarantined in your home. “Contagion” is a horror movie about absolute helplessness and chaos in a world turned inside out by an unknown deadly virus. The tagline suggests that nothing spreads like fear, and indeed the only emotion in “Contagion” is stark, primal fear.

Yet fear alone is not enough to save Steven Soderbergh’s virus epic. “Contagion” works less as a human story and more as a dark, deadly and paranoid biology lesson. Don’t worry if you failed high school bio, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns keeps the barrage of technical jargon interesting and realistic but at an understandable level.

Unlike other Hollywood films in the virus subgenre, “Contagion” is a sterile, barely emotional thrill ride. The all-star cast will get butts in theater seats but audiences may have a very hard time finding entertainment value in the grisly situations and the lifeless characters. The film views the spread of the virus and the horrific consequences in such a realistic way that the film blurs the line between entertainment and realism.

The acting from the colossal Irwin Allen-esque ensemble is good with what lean meat their roles provide. Soderbergh, like the late Robert Altman, is great at bringing a cast of Hollywood’s top stars together, and for “Contagion,” he was no slouch. Soderbergh regular Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburn, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould and Marion Cotillard do their best to bring life where there’s very little.

The film's biggest problem is it bleeds plot lines like an unsutured wound. There are too many plots that go nowhere. As soon as there is any sort of investment in a character they are either forgotten about, serve little purpose to the overall story, or are immediately killed, begging the question, what’s the point?

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    Contagion seems almost senseless as the chaos it depicts. The film doesn’t present itself as any kind of warning. It’s not a message movie. It’s just fear for the sake of fear.

    Jude Law’s conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede is the most interesting character in the film as he personifies the mass paranoia Soderbergh is attempting to depict. His character poses the ethical questions of whether a government would keep a cure from the public in order to profit from the pharmaceutical companies and their vaccinations.

    “Contagion” starts with such propulsion from the superb editing by Stephen Mirrione, but eventually burns itself out, leaving little in its wake but an unwelcome feeling of agoraphobia.

    2 Out of 5 Stars