Contagion 4K UHD Review: If I Could Throw Your Computer in Jail, I Would

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, written by Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum), is about a pandemic which spreads quickly and kills quickly. There is a huge cast of stars and representing the CDC are Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Meers (Kate Winslet); Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) and his daughter supposedly represent the “typical” American family; and representing the seedier side of disasters is a blogger, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law), who finds a way to monetize the pandemic.

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In the opening of the movie we meet Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is returning from a business trip to Hong Kong with a bad cold. Two days later, she and her son (Mitch’s stepson) are dead and the CDC understands that a new, extremely lethal virus has been unleashed. From here the film focuses on the CDC’s work to combat the virus; the struggles of Mitch Emhoff and his daughter to stay safe and have enough food and drinkable water; and Alan Krumweide’s attempts to fool people into believing he has the cure – a holistic “medicine” made by a company Alan is heavily invested in.

Contagion is composed in the following way: a character or characters explain what you should expect to see for the next 20 minutes; for instance, the who, what, where, why, and how of the creation of a vaccine. Then we see a little bit of vaccine creation between Matt Damon action sequences. These mostly consist of him keeping his daughter from kissing her boyfriend. Then repeat. Now, that may not seem exceptionally interesting, but, by the end of the film, characterization wins the day and it all comes together and works.

It is impossible to watch Contagion without the lens of COVID. In some ways, we see that the filmmakers nailed it (bloggers spreading false information for monetary gain) and in other ways they really missed the boat (for acting reasons, almost nobody wears a mask). One of the most egregious scenes comes when Dr. Meers wakes up coughing in the middle of the night at her hotel. She calls the front desk to politely ask for all the contact information of everyone who has serviced her room, and the front desk actually appears to comply. There are also lines that come off almost funny now: at one point, Bryan Cranston says, “Congress is trying to figure out a way to work online.”

Special Features (all previously released):

  • The Reality of Contagion – Featurette
  • The Contagion Detectives – Featurette
  • Contagion – How a Virus Changes the World – Featurette

Don’t be fooled by the above synopsis: Contagion is not a thriller, it is a horror movie. It is filled with surprising and close-up gore, menacing figures in the dark, jump scares, and a villain or two. Some of the horror feels cheap, but characterization across the board goes a long way to tone down the horrific elements. Unfortunately, Contagion is really feeling its age post COVID; however, the deep characterizations and thrilling subject matter elevate it to quality entertainment.

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Greg Hammond

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