For nondriving New Yorkers, high gas prices can seem like an abstract problem. But if coffee went for $19 a pound, anarchy would follow. That chilling prospect is just one of the ancillary effects of the pandemic in Fatal Contact, a disease-of-the-millenium movie that alternately feels like a Stephen King adaptation and a cautionary New Yorker article.
Joely Richardson stars as Iris Varnack, a government scientist whose warnings about avian flu infecting humans are ignored until it’s too late—i.e., until after a businessman returning from China brings the bug back to Richmond, infecting fellow passengers from a zillion countries on the flight home. Spewing platitudes about “continuity of leadership,” the governor of Virginia (Scott Cohen) quickly seals himself in a Plexiglas bunker, proving that he never read local boy Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” in high school.
A fair amount of data is thrown around, but in the interest of accessibility, social disorder gets more screen time than the disease itself: Viewers are soon treated to chilling images of food riots, landfills loaded with corpses and Penn Station serving as a giant triage clinic (in a neat visual crib from Gone with the Wind).
Movies about global warming may scare people into buying hybrid cars, but avian flu is a threat viewers can’t do the smallest thing about. The only possible message is, If this happens, we’re really screwed! Or, in the case of a vaccine that presents false hope, Never trust the French!-—Andrew Johnston