I liked Contagion, although it was flawed, particularly in the third act. However, the first two acts were effective enough to make me forgive the third’s shortcomings.
Contagion was different, which is probably what I appreciated most about it. The most noticeable differentiation between this and movies like it is the evident lack of zombies. The disease in the film is not a supernatural, science-fiction future disease. It is just a disease we have not yet encountered, and are therefore unprepared for. It doesn’t turn its victims into zombies or vampires or zombie-vampires. It makes them sick and then it kills them. Which, when you think about it, is much scarier than a sci-fi zombie disease. In zombie movies, the breakout is just the stepping-stone for the real threat. In this movie, the threat is the disease itself, which is much more elusive and less combatable than a hoard of zombies. You don’t know when the disease will get you, and once it does, it’s too late.
The ensemble acting was fine, if not remarkable. This isn’t a knock on the actors here, many of who are some of my favorites, but rather a flaw in the script itself. The film had trouble expressing the emotional consequences of a deadly outbreak such as this. The few times it did felt awkward and forced. I also noticed a definite downplaying of significant deaths, which I’m assuming was on purpose, to show how sudden death could be.
The first two acts of the film work efficiently and effectively. They instill the sense of dread and helplessness necessary for a film like this to work, and more importantly, they don’t glamorize and dress it up. The film presents the facts as they would be presented in real life. The film isn’t trying hard to entertain the audience; it’s trying hard to captivate them. This deliberate, realistic pace makes the later scenes of riot and destruction more terrifying, as we’ve already been convinced this is all taking place in the real world.
As I said, the disappointment comes in the third act, or roughly the last half hour of the film. Basically, SPOILER ALERT, Contagion found its resolution too early and too easily. There was never any real climax. Things got bad, things got fixed, and then the movie went on for another thirty minutes. I kept waiting for the other foot to drop, and some horrific twist to occur, but nothing ever did. The film ended by showing how the disease began, which might have been interesting if scientists hadn’t already correctly predicted it in the first half of the film. They didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know.
Mediocre third act aside, Contagion was a smart, engaging, and most importantly, very realistic portrayal of a possible phenomenon. The first two acts of the film were expertly crafted, and have left me feeling very conscious whenever I touch my face or shake hands with someone.