Contagion sells Pandemic horror
When COVID-19 broke out, it was almost a no-brainer that movies would be made to cash in on the panic and fear of the pandemic. They came – of course – and the best films from that first period chose to focus on the human element. Isolation, loneliness, that kind of thing. Understandably, most steered clear of dealing with the pandemic story directly.
But then, Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns already cooked up a chill about the horrors of a deadly virus almost a decade earlier. Being strong and attractive, it was no surprise that people flocked to him again in the early days of COVID-19.
Contagion arrived today in 2011, and at the time, its science-heavy view of the effects of an airborne virus seemed downright fanciful. Even as parts of the world suffered from epidemics that created scary headlines for the countries they didn’t really affect, it still felt like a distant possibility.
In Contagion, a woman returns from a business trip to Hong Kong and dies from a flu-like illness. Then her young son dies on the same day. However, the woman’s husband seems to be immune.
Ensemble Cast emphasizes the Paranoia and fear of Contagion
Soderbergh makes excellent and frightening use of his ability to rotate an ensemble cast in these early moments. The film stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Elliot Gould. Soderbergh stacks the deck only to pull off a shocking spoof with a big-name actor suffering an untimely death. There is no better way to know that no one is safe from what is to come. Even being immune does not prevent people from suffering as a result of the unexpected death of loved ones.
This is our entry point at the beginning of what will become a pandemic where the airborne virus wreaks havoc. Doctors at the US Centers for Disease Control will soon understand the extent of the virus’s reach. They are scrambling against the clock to find both a cure for the virus and a cure.
At the same time, the rise in cases around the world is causing unrest and panic on a large scale. As we know all too well, answers can never come fast enough to stop the impact.
Soderbergh has dabbled in horror in his directorial career, most notably in 2018’s Unsane, and he will throw himself into it completely for his next film Presence. But Contagion’s cold, clinical science is perhaps the most brilliant use of it in his film.
Yes, Contagion plays things to the extreme end of the spectrum. But, that’s why it was a form of comfort in the early days of our pandemic. The situation is bad, but look at how bad it could be. The parallels between fact and fiction were very close at that time.
Unfortunately, life was stranger than fiction. Reality proved it could create its own disturbing twist on how people actually act in a pandemic. Could Soderbergh have predicted anti-maskers?