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Soderbergh's CONTAGION: a no-thrills thriller

I saw CONTAGION last weekend and by God it’s the first thriller I’ve ever seen where a lingering shot of a coffee cup (or martini glass, or door handle) recently fondled by the recently infected is one of the scariest shots. A coffee cup! And it actually is scary. The camera holds just long enough to make the object – and the unseen germs just deposited there – terrifying. I’m not talking about a gasp-out-loud- sort of terrifying, but a sick to the stomach, this-could-surely-happen-to-me sort of terrifying.

Friends on Facebook have cried “Blah!” as in, “It’s boring!” Well, maybe. Moments, I admit, feel slow. But isn’t that refreshing for a thriller? Nobody but Soderbergh could impose a new pace on a well-worn genre, and nobody could rally such high power stars to, one by one, froth at the mouth. They die so well.

Is there any parallel, genre-wise? A no-drama melodrama? A no-humor comedy? I’m not sure it works quite as well. A no-thrills thriller implies that the act of being thrilled need not always originate from lightening or thunder and gentle rain can, in fact, be equally as heart-stopping. It’s a slow thrill, one that’s both dangerous and insidious. Is your coffee cup your enemy? Actually, it just might be. I like re-imagining my world so that the objects closest to me turn into killers. Why do I like it? Even if it’s a slow notion, it gives me a zing. Accomplished without massive explosions, fires, bazillions of guns or a glut of violence. Thrilling.

–AH