What, No Zombies? I Want My Money Back.

Dr. Ally Hextall being a BAMF.
It's happened. Labor day weekend has come and gone, and now we can finally strap in as the disappointingly "eh" summer movies fade away and we prepare ourselves for the badassitry that is going to be this winter. Contagion (2011) is a wonderfully concise way to shed the dead skin of summer and enjoy a little taste of panic, desperation, and sneezes just in time for flu season. The funny thing about this movie is that it is really the movie that shouldn't have worked. There's no real main character, no real defeat of the antagonist, no car chases, no explosions, and no fucking zombies. It's a movie about a really bad case of the swine flu and the various ways people deal with it. The end. And yet, thanks to a little thing we call star studded cast and excellent acting, they somehow pull it off. 

Image from daemonsmovies.com
Since there's no real singular plot that follows through the movie except "holyfuck, bacteria!", I'm just going to highlight some of the major plots I appreciated. My favorite segment was definitely anything and everything that happened around Dr. Ellis, played by none other than Morpheus himself. I've always had a soft spot for Laurence Fishburne, and he pushed every emotional button here. Ellis was the "go-to" man for emotional problem, it seemed, and he played out an excellent, subtle bromance with Dr. Erin Mears, AKA, the lovely Kate Winslet. I call it a bromance because that's exactly what it was--a great, platonic friendship between two characters built off of a few spot-on scenes. 

We had a bunch of really excellent female characters, while on the topic. Marion Cotillard was fucking sexy. Oh, and a great actress and stuff. She helped save the world. Whatever. Even though her segment didn't...seem to have a real end? But maybe I just wasn't reading into it hard enough. However, the real heroine of the movie is Dr. Ally Hextall, played by Jennifer Ehle. Know her? Me neither. Her previous credits include "Brooklyn Ice House Bartender" in The Adjustment Bureau. Yet, even among all these big name actors, she shines in a organic, easy way. Her character remains the same stubborn, persistent doctor throughout the entire movie and doesn't seem to go through any major changes, and yet she more or less singlehandedly saves mankind. So I think she deserves a pat on the back for that. I know I should probably say something about Gwyneth Paltrrow here but...I don't really like her, so I was just happy to see her die right away. I think she did an excellent job foaming at the mouth. A +.

Image from daemonsmovies.com.
Another character I've got to mention is Alan Krumwiede, played by Jude Law's teeth. Seriously. Look at those chompers. Am I right? But in all seriousness, he's an excellent obnoxious blogger trying to turn a profit (or prophet) out of others' misery. I've always thought Jude Law does his best when he's an asshole (I'm looking at you, I Heart Huckabees (2004). Which, by the way, is an excellent stoner movie. Just throwing that out there. Pressing on--), and he doesn't disappoint here. He's smarmy, but you can't help but enjoy every moment he's on screen. 

The last subplot I'm going to go into is Jason Bourne's whole bit. Jason Bourne plays Mitch, who's wife (Paltrow) is one of the first to die, and ends up waiting out the storm with his daughter. Except Mitch has a secret. He's Jason Bourne. And Jason Bourne doesn't get sick. Sick gets Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne is immune to every disease. Ever. It might wipe out the entire human race, but not Jason Bourne. Chuck Norris can stay too. With that said...alright. So they give Mitch this great immunity that no one else has. Awesome! And then he spends the rest of the movie...doing absolutely nothing with it. The only reason his immunity exists seems to be so he can hold his wife as she writhes and comes out on the other end alive. The government isn't able to use him, he can't do anything special with it. Instead, he just holes up in his house with a shotgun and protects his daughter. Which I'm cool with. Really. I liked the whole father/daughter dynamic. But I was left a little unsatisfied with his whole immunity bit. 

On the thread of unsatisfying things, I'm going to say that while I liked the film a lot as a whole, the end didn't really do it for me. I know, when we're dealing with a multi-plot movie that evolves around a man-killing disease, there's no real logical way to end it except to somehow neatly wrap up each segment. You can't really fire a bazooka into a contagious disease and call it a night. Still, you did get the feeling that the writers just didn't know how to end it. So they found the cure. Great! But then they had to give it out to the public. Done! And then they had to deal with the people waiting on the cure, denying that it worked, giving the government hell. I was waiting for a skip into the future when we find out the vaccine gave everyone AIDS and they all died anyway. Limp ending aside, the movie still packed an emotional punch I wasn't expecting from an infection movie. The characters were well thought out, the events seemed believable, and the writing was natural and organic. It was just a good end-of-the-world movie, without being so...end-of-the-worldy. 
Dramatic Kate Winslet is dramatic.

With all that said. There is one final point I have to make. Which is...Zombies. Because someone had to say it. Now, I like a good infection movie as much as the next person. And I'm cool with an outbreak of the batty swine flu without any undead, brain-eating zombies coming to life. Really, go ahead and make your "intellectual" outbreak film. But I have a personal bone to pick here. The book World War Z by Max Brooks was pretty popular recently, and if I could make love to a zombie infested book, it would be this one. Yet, as I was watching Contagion, I could not stop thinking about World War Z. World-wide infection. Various different character stories. A bit of politics here and there. I'm not by any means saying Contagion "ripped off" the book, because infection-movies are hardly a novel idea. However, they've got a World War Z movie in the making, which will hopefully come out sometime next year. The lesson I hope people take form Contagion is that a multi-plot multi-location movie can be done, and done well. Except now I'm suddenly holding my breath and waiting for that person who talks out of World War Z going "What the hell, that's such a rip-off of Contagion." After which zombies will eat their face. There. I got it out of my system. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

In short, Contagion was a unique look at infection movies. It went with a relatively simple plot and churned out a compelling story with many captivating characters. Well worth the watch. Just let someone else touch the door handle for you on your way out. 


  1. I don't want to see this because I don't do sick films unless it leads to a zombie invasion. I make myself feel ill watching other people fall sick. It's twisted and stupid, I know, but here you have it. Love the review, but I won't be seeing this, like ever, because I'll throw up or at least start to feel weak and nauseated. And I so cannot wait for World War Z... what a superior zombie book.

  2. That's wild! Are you an empath by any chance? But I'm going to have to agree with you...the movie could've been made better with zombies. But then again, everything is better with zombies, so I can't hold them accountable for it.

    And yes! World War Z is going to be epic. Here's to hoping they do the movie right!

  3. I don't know as I am an empath, but just reading the symptoms of a disease or hearing someone describe their condition and I start to feel sick. Even if I don't have the right organs... prostate cancer.

  4. LMAO! That's Web MD for you. Good luck battling that prostate cancer! At least you can be sure you'll beat it.

  5. I hate to burst your bubble, but there are plenty of movies that are just fine without zombies... I just can't name any right now.

    Good review. I had no problem waiting til this came out on DVD, but I still hoped it'd be better than Outbreak, one of the best comedies ever. I also hoped Paltrow would exit stage left quickly. This movie is funny to watch in NYC - how many buildings have hand sanitizer by the door handles? How many non-bathrom/non-hospital settings make you choose between cleanliness and cowardice?

  6. Muhahaha! My point exactly. But I'm with you there, it's a good wait-for-DVD-movie. No reason to rush the theaters to see it. And Paltrow's quick exit definitely made ma happy. All I can say is I inched away from the sneezing people on the subway the day after seeing this.

  7. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review.

  8. I'm almost the opposite--I thought it had the potential to suck hard, and actually turned out to be a pretty decent movie. But that's what happens when you go to a movie expecting little to nothing. I definitely agree that they could've kicked up the awesome a notch, though.


Every time you leave a comment, Chuck Norris sneezes and creates a new solar system.