When Gwyneth Paltrow's globe-trotting executive returns from a business trip to Hong Kong little does she suspect that she's carrying a virus which will result in millions of deaths. Director Steven Soderbergh meticulously constructs a doomsday scenario, soberly describing how an apparently innocuous bacteriological strain transmutes into a lethal contagion. Kate Winslet plays a valiant researcher who risks her life dealing with the contaminated while Jude Law is the conspiracy theorist blogger who fans the flames of hysteria. Deeply disturbing in its clinical approach, this is one to catch.
Refreshingly, director Steven Soderbergh opts for a chillingly measured approach, clinically noting the deadly progress of a killer disease while devastatingly calmly accounting the human cost.
It's a more meaningful approach, which renders the (fictitious but all-too believable) pandemic real as cheap stunts and corny twists get the Domestos treatment.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays an adulterous international traveller who picks up the embryonic virus while attending a raucous business dinner at a Macau casino.
Arriving home in Minneapolis, what she thought was jet lag - a flu-like condition - turns out to be much worse. She's dead in two days. Her eight-year old son a day later. Yet husband Matt Damon appears immune.
In Hong Kong victims with the same symptoms begin to appear...until dying horribly There's the waiter who cleared her glass. A London-based Ukrainian model who handed her mobile phone to her. The barman who accepted her credit card at the airport.
Back in the US a graphic post mortem reveals something nasty lurking in Gwynnie's brain. And it's not the synapse sequence that convinced her to marry Chris Martin.
It appears there's a constantly evolving respiratory virus which stays one step ahead of medical science by rapidly mutating and even finding a convivial host in the Aids virus. Not nice.
Quickly on the case is San Francisco blogger Jude Law, a slimy conspiracy theorist with an Australian accent and tartan flat cap who whips up an internet storm, feeding hysteria amongst a receptive global population who don't think they're being told the truth.
Trying to keep a rational lid on things is American science chief Laurence Fishburne who has to convince a clueless Homeland Security that it's not "weaponised bird flu" and a panicking population that a cure will be found.
On his side is Jennifer Ehle's painstaking biohazard expert, Kate Winslet's courageous field doctor and Marion Cotillard's World Health Organisation epidemiologist. But do they have enough time?
Lean and fast-moving, Soderbergh ratchets up the tension without straining credibility while the days tick away and the body count rises.
It's a profoundly effective and affecting thriller that will leave audiences running for the exits if anyone nearby coughs or splutters.
Now wash your hands.