Directed with his usual brand of cold, clinical detachment, Steven Soderbergh’s riveting virus thriller Contagion is a thinking person’s horror film, a genre piece that defies genre in more than a few ways, never giving into cheap Hollywood sensationalism or resorting to hackneyed plot twists. With basically everyone in Hollywood in a juicy supporting role, Soderbergh surgically raced through Scott Z. Burns’ streamlined and often times startling screenplay, never resting for a moment, aided immeasurably by Cliff Martinez’s pulsating electronic score, which happens to be one of my absolute favorites from recent years.
This is procedural cinema at its finest – no bloat, no bull, just the facts – so if you’re into this sort of thing (Zodiac, All the President’s Men, Shattered Glass), it’ll knock you sideways and leave you wanting more. The final moments sting with sly irony, Soderbergh’s always incredible sense of cinematography and editing was fully on display (Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard POWER), and the fact that the movie never once opted for the sentimental (smartly and believably, nobody is safe in this movie…as it should be!) makes the nastiness of the briskly moving plot all the more chilling.
Contagion was part of that glorious final roll of movies (The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant!, Haywire, Magic Mike, and Side Effects – my lord!) that Soderbergh embarked on before he began work on the brilliant TV series The Knick, and I really hope that his extended absence from the big screen comes to an end very soon. He’s always been one of the sharpest, most erudite of filmmakers, and his beyond eclectic filmography will always fascinate me. Contagion takes the virus-thriller tropes and shakes them up, looking at the societal and medicinal ramifications from a plausible angle, with all of the film’s collaborators striving to make something timely, topical, and relevant. I think it’s a great, un-showy, deeply troubling look at what will happen when a virus strain comes along and takes us all by surprise. Because you’re living in denial if you think something like this can’t – or won’t – happen at some point in the future.
Review by Nick Clement