10 years ago, we all slept on the return of the erotic thriller
It is time to dig up this hidden gem and re-evaluate it as the great movie that it truly is.
In 2011, the combination of director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns managed to both (A) scare audiences silly, and (B) eerily predict some precise events during the Covid-19 pandemic with the release of Contagion. Two years later, with Soderbergh having also directed action thriller Haywire and stripper drama Magic Mike in between, the duo would reunite for Side Effects.
Released in cinemas on 8 February 2013, the movie should've earmarked the return of the Hitchcockian mystery, with a healthy injection of erotic thriller for good measure. It featured a massively impressive cast; Jude Law, Rooney Mara (who was coming in hot off the back of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Channing Tatum (ditto, for Magic Mike), and Catherine Zeta Jones (who, we just realised, hasn't actually been in a movie since 2016!).
All of those attractive stars, featuring in a hot topic psychological thriller, filled with sex and double crosses and everything you could hope for in a movie like this. This is what the grown-ups in the audience had been calling out for! Except... then the audience didn't really show up for it. From a $30 million budget, it made just $66.7 million worldwide. On its opening weekend, it landed in third place, behind terrible comedy Identity Thief and forgettable zombie romance Warm Bodies.
So now, on the tenth anniversary of its release, let us go back and celebrate Side Effects for the obviously cracking little thriller that it truly is...
Without getting too heavy into any spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet, the plot revolves around Emily (Rooney Mara), who is assigned a new psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), following Emily's apparent suicide attempt that took place around the same time that her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison following a four-year sentence for insider trading.
Jonathan contacts Emily's previous psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests an experimental new drug called Ablixa. Initially, the prescription seems to help Emily massively, with the only real side effect (ah, there's that title) being sleepwalking. But it isn't long before things take a sudden, drastic turn towards the nightmarish.
In the same way that Soderbergh and Burns had tackled a certain angle of big pharma and disguised it as a terrifying disaster movie in Contagion, they do the same thing again, but magnify it waaaaaay down to a tiny story involving just a handful of people. But it still tackles some very big issues within big pharma, and it is still very, very scary, except this time the genre it is camouflaged as is the erotic thriller.
Landing with 81% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of release, the decade since its release has only increased Side Effects' impressiveness, and it absolutely deserves a (re)visit:
Variety - "Steven Soderbergh's elegantly coiled puzzler spins a tale of clinical depression and psychiatric malpractice into an absorbing, cunningly unpredictable entertainment that, like much of his recent work, closely observes how a particular subset of American society operates in a needy, greedy, paranoid and duplicitous age."
AV Club - "Side Effects screws around in its own thriller architecture, toying with feints of structure and clever bits of misdirection, and otherwise playing the audience like a fiddle. At this point in his career, Soderbergh pulls it off with the unpracticed ease of a maestro."
Time - "Side Effects virtually demands a three-word review: Just see it."
Side Effects is available to watch with a NOW Cinema Membership in Ireland and the UK.