Two seconds prior to the movie starting a man to the far right of where I was sitting starting hacking, as if on cue. This was followed by a sporadic slew of coughing throughout the film, followed by a general ill feeling moving through my body, throat to stomach. These are the things you are going to notice while watching Contagion, but other than this effect on my life (and how I now notice when I unnecessarily touch my face) the movie was lost on me.
Epidemics are no joke. In middle school one person got mono on our basketball team and the coach went crazy with telling us not to share water bottles so we wouldn’t drop like flies. Because of this, to this day I still don’t share drinks with people. Sure this may be an overreaction on my part, but it shows the small scale of what this movie is all about. People start getting sick, it spreads, people get crazy paranoid, and human nature ensues.
To not beat around the bush, I am going to put this as simply as I can. Contagion needs zombies. Now hear me out. Back during the 1950s science fiction became a popular means at which to create allegories for the fears of the American people, AKA McCarthyism. Sure, make a film that has no layers to what it is really trying to say and it may be interesting, but if I really want that I will watch the History Channel. Bring on the aliens! Which brings me back to the zombies. Similarly to the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers to McCarthyism and Communism, zombies represent the fear of an epidemic in many ways, and throughout the decades of being made they have found a structure that works to make the films entertaining.
Here’s what I mean:
- Often in zombie films, instead of doing a large-scale overview of the events going on, we get to follow a small band of people sticking together in order to survive. We get to connect to these people, watch them struggle, suffer and die, and we fear for them. In Contagion we are forced to follow a lot of characters as they try to figure out how this unknown disease started, what it is, etc, making the character development thin and sympathy for them based strongly on your opinions of the actors going in. In other words, Kate Winslet knows how to pull in an audience with her acting, and was thankfully able to do that in her scenes, but that is about it (even though the cast is full of people I love).
- Silent, creeping death can be scary, but even Final Destination adds a physical presence to give the audience something tangible to be scared of. Yes, coughing is gross, as is sweating and seeping vomit from the mouth, but what are you going to be afraid of? That? Or a ravenous once-human creature that is chasing you down to eat your flesh? Yeah, I am going with the latter.
- Let’s face it, when you get down to it, figuring out what happened is much more boring than dealing with it. In many senses Contagion tries to deal with both aspects of this, but the structure and pacing makes it play out like reading a timeline of events. The specific events listed may be exciting things, but you’re still just reading a list.
Long story short, Contagion has an exciting premise that is bogged down by remaining truthful to the subject matter, and other than some amazing, inflatable, neon-orange body suits and some looting scenes (ok, a lot of looting and burglary scenes), there really isn’t that much exciting to see. In other words, for something like this I will stick to documentaries, the history channel, or the news when something like this happens (because this is a strong likelihood). But when I want to be entertained, give me zombies.
Final Grade: C-
PS – If you think you might be closer to me in opinion then I recommend watching Carriers instead. It is a faster paced movie dealing with the after effects of a situation like this, following a group of 4 trying to find a safe place. Plus, I am pretty sure it is on Netflix instant queue right now, so added bonus. And their masks are way cooler…