Steven Soderbergh’s polar tendencies toward both mainstream entertainment and experimentation find a near-perfect medium in Contagion, which is both among the most thrilling and terrifying movies of the year and a meticulous, gorgeous use of brand-new digital filmmaking technology. Seeing the film blown up huge on an IMAX screen isn’t entirely necessary, but it does allow the close-up shots on Soderbergh’s RED Epic cameras to accomplish even more of the film’s creepy-crawly, psychologically affecting claustrophobia. A star-studded disaster thriller that’s also got enough talent to hit home, Contagion is satisfying and spooky and a total thrill to watch.
Contagion begins on day two of a disaster that will soon wipe out a significant percentage of the Earth’s population, a disaster that’s frighteningly plausible– a virus, born of some strange combination of bat and pig DNA, that found a human carrier and spread from there. The woman identified as Patient Zero (Gwyneth Paltrow) travels from Hong Kong, stops over in Chicago to hook up with an old boyfriend, and returns home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) before dying, suddenly and violently. Before long her son is dead too, and with Mitch mysteriously immune, he’s left to team up with his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) to survive in a world that’s quickly unraveling.