Brotherly brawling, a global pandemic and a haunted house are among the scary offerings coming to local discount theaters this weekend. ---
The best bet is Steven Soderbergh's quietly chilling Contagion, which follows multiple characters over a series of weeks when a deadly virus spreads around the world. The film never reaches for disaster-movie melodrama, remaining tense in its almost procedural exploration of how medical and political officials respond to the crisis in ways that are often completely unhelpful but thoroughly human. The one subplot that attempts to make the story more intimate and personal -- about a widowed dad (Matt Damon) trying to care for his family amid increasing panic -- proves to be the least interesting part of a film that's at its most compelling when examining grim determination.
The drama is much less cataclysmic in Warrior, but still plenty effective. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play estranged siblings who both wind up competing in a mixed martial arts tournament with a huge payoff. Writer/director Gavin O'Connor keeps the interpersonal scenes pitched just right, the anger generally more repressed than spewing forth in melodramatic recriminations. And the fight scenes themselves offer plenty of action. Take away a misguided ending, and you've got something that aspires to a next-generation Rocky, and almost succeeds.
Then there are the "thrills" of Dream House, with Daniel Craig as a man who moves his family into a place with a bad history. CW's Andrew Wright wrote that director Jim Sheridan "fails to supply much of anything ... in the way of mood, leaving the cast to wander dejectedly through the carefully applied cobwebs and just-so-creaky floorboards." Move in (to the theater) at your own risk.