Contagion (2011)

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cottilard, Jennifer Ehle, Elliot Gould, Bryan Cranston

Directed by: Stephen Soderbergh

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Laurence Fishburne and Jennife Ehle save the world in Contagion

Uh-oh... Another epidemic movie, another trip to Asda to stock up on hand sanitizer, water and baked beans. Thanks goodness we've got half a pig in a freezer – as long as they keep the water and leccy on, we'll be fine until next summer.

Except that in Contagion, it's as pig (and a bat) that are to blame for the highly infectious fatal disease that sweeps across the globe, killing untold billions in just over a month. And 'patient A'? None other than the film's biggest star, Gwyneth Paltrow, who drops dead within ten minutes. Jeepers! If macrobiotic Gwynnie can catch it, there's no hope for the rest of us.

Fortunately, Dr Ray Langston, Elizabeth Bennett and Ross's dad from Friends are here to save us – thank goodness for TV stars as the Hollywood A list falls like flies.

Okay, I'm being facetious. But perhaps that's cuz I'm a wee bit disappointed by this film. Because although it was thoroughly gripping in its depiction of a world (okay, an America, mostly) devastated by disease, and the characters are defined enough for us to care about them (more or less), this horror-movie-meets-documentary doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before in many other epidemic films – or indeed, in countless zombie flicks.

So we have the first few fatal collisions as the disease passes (literally) from hand to hand (which I must admit the film does ominously well); the growing panic; looting, housebreaking; barricades on roads and bridges; trenches lined with lime-covered corpses, wrapped in plastic as the body bags have run out; martial law; the suits and top brass discussing the prognosis; the President gone to ground while the streets fill with rubbish and nurses strike. (Just another day in the summer of discontent then...)

Jude Law as blogger Alan Krumwiede in Contagion

Perhaps the most interesting sub plot of many focusses on Jude Law's cynical medical blogger Alan Krumwiede, who exploits the situation to make millions recommending an untried homoeopathic serum as a surefire cure. Yet, aside from a couple of references to Twitter and Facebook, this is, surprisingly, the only real mention of the internet in the film, either as a means of spreading panic or as a force for good. In fact, while critics may moan that social networking is isolating us from our communities, here our fellow human beans are all too omnipresent, coughing in each others faces and wiping germs all over the place.

As a lesson in what not to do when you're feeling ill, Contagion should become required viewing – it's nothing if not educational (think Protect and Survive with hand-sanitizer). And yet while the film is dramatic, plausible and chilling, and captures the attention well on an intellectual level, it's a little too dry and scholarly to wholly engage the emotions. Does that matter? Possibly not, if it's meant to be a public service announcement (or an advert for anti-bacterial cleaning products) but as a movie, it just didn't quite do it for me.

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