Time Out's favourite paranoia-inducing epidemic movies
This week marks the UAE release of hit thriller Contagion, starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. In celebration, we present our favourite paranoia-inducing epidemic movies
Night of the Living Dead (1968) Starring: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Keith Wayne With its radical rewriting of a genre in which good had always triumphed over evil, George Romero’s first feature shattered many of the traditional conventions of horror and paved the way for the subversive visions of many future directors. The film’s opening scene immediately signals its own subversiveness. In broad daylight, a brother and sister visit their father’s grave; seeing a tall man lumbering towards them, Johnny tries to frighten Barbara with a daft Boris Karloff impersonation; suddenly the figure lurches forward and kills him.
Together with a small group of survivors, Barbara holes up in a nearby farmhouse, besieged by an ever-swelling tide of flesh-eating zombies. Trapped, they fight for their lives, but nothing works out as it should; whenever it seems there might be a glimmer of hope, Romero cruelly reverses our expectations. The nihilistic ending, in particular, has to be seen to be believed. NF Paranoia rating: 4/5
Outbreak (1995) Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman Imagine a disease that makes the bubonic plague look like measles, and is spread in the air like a common cold: so rapacious that within a matter of days a subcontinent the size of America is completely consumed. It’s too easy to see the film as a metaphor for AIDS panic in the same way that ’50s alien B-movies mirrored fears of the Red Menace: the point is that viruses as deadly as the one in the film already exist.
Petersen’s thriller has its moments, most of them in the first half, which shows the painstaking methods by which such viral monsters are tracked and identified, and touches on the ethical problems presented by military intelligence and germ warfare. SGr Paranoia rating: 4/5
28 Days Later (2002) Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Megan Burns The streets of London are terrorised by blood-crazed maniacs – nothing new there then. Except that those same streets seem so preternaturally quiet. It’s been 28 days since the Rage virus was unleashed; four weeks that have decimated the population. When Jim awakes from a coma it’s as though he’s still in the throes of some frightening fever dream: Robinson Crusoe in Piccadilly Circus.
Profoundly indebted to George Romero’s zombie flicks, but brusque and brutal in comparison, 28 Days Later clicks on urban alienation, social paranoia, viral and bacterial terror, pollution and contamination, but homes in on the idea that the greatest threat may be fear itself. TCh Paranoia rating: 4/5
I Am Legend (2007) Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Charlie Tahan A mutated virus turns the population of the world into bloodthirsty monsters; everyone, that is, apart from ex-military scientist Robert Neville. Living in quarantine in Manhattan, Neville works day and night on finding a cure before the creatures devour him.
Kudos to Smith for taking on the role of Neville, who survives the pandemic. He spends his days scavenging for supplies and searching for an antidote; his nights are spent barricaded inside a brownstone while the creatures of the night howl for blood. Despite the striking post-apocalyptic images of nature returning to the city, this is an oddly benign world and falls apart in time for an absurdly happy-clappy ending. NF Paranoia rating: 3/5
The Road (2009) Starring: Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen, Guy Pearce Okay, it doesn’t technically feature an epidemic, but director John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel shares many of the same unflinching characteristics. A man and a boy wander the US wasteland after an ecological disaster. The trees are bare, the few human survivors starving, often violent, occasionally monstrous.
Stunning landscape photography sets the melancholy mood, and Nick Cave’s wrenching score reinforces it. But it is the performances that hold the film together. It’s the incidental characters who steal the show, notably Robert Duvall in a startling cameo. TH Paranoia rating: 2/5