It starts with someone coughing, over a black screen. Then we see a sick-looking Gwyneth Paltrow sitting in an airport bar, with a red title stating that this is DAY 2 – day two of a deadly epidemic, we’ll soon find out, an epidemic threatening to kill millions of people, and fast.

As the days roll by, the film takes us back and forth around the world, introducing tons of characters, none of which could really be construed as a lead… No, the lead is the virus itself, which we follow as it spreads at an alarming rate, while scientists, government officials and others struggle to find a way to stop it.

Steven Soderbergh directs all this masterfully, achieving to scare the shit out of us just by showing us people getting sweaty and dizzy, coughing, and touching things, goddammit – and then it’s off to another victim, and another, and another…

The storytelling is remarkably fluid, we never feel lost – disturbed, uncomfortable and anxious, for sure, but we can always follow what’s going on all too well, even though the chain of events is complex and involves a whole lot of people, not to mention tons of technical jargon. Kudos to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for that, and again to Soderbergh and his almost clinical attention to detail.

Also of note are the extra-sharp digital cinematography (the film was shot on Red One cameras), the typically brilliant electro-industrial score by Cliff Martinez, and what may very well be the best ensemble cast of the year (Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Demetri Martin, etc.).

Here is a flawlessly crafted film depicting the worst-case scenario that thankfully never materialized when the H1N1 and SARS outbreaks happened, an unnerving, “really grim” paranoid thriller with elements of horror, apocalyptic science-fiction and 1970s disaster movies… And maybe just a touch of gallows humor (“When did we run out of body bags?”).

One of the year’s best pictures, no doubt about it.