Gwyneth Paltrow

(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

“Contagion” may be the most unexpectedly terrifying movie of the year. It’s not exactly a horror movie in the traditional sense of the word, since there are no axe murderers, ghosts or zombies, but its step-by-step breakdown of the spread of a potentially apocalyptic virus is every bit as unnerving as anything George Romero or John Carpenter has ever accomplished.

The film doesn’t waste a minute, introducing Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s returning from a business trip overseas, and promptly making her one of the first victims of the deadly virus that functions as the film’s villain. From there, “Contagion” takes on a vaguely novelistic structure, introducing the key figures trying to prevent the epidemic and then slowly toppling their every effort. Scott Z. Burns’ script moves deliberately, laying out each government agency and their different actions, never portraying them as right or wrong decisions, but as the acts of people trying to do their best in the situation from hell.

Director Steven Soderbergh has been publicly threatening to retire, and “Contagion” makes it crystal clear what a shame that would be. Soderbergh builds relentless tension throughout the film, weaving in small moments of human decency amongst the large-scale apocalyptic material. It’s refreshing how effortlessly Soderbergh juggles a dozen major characters, keeping the film moving quickly and not feeling the need to have every single storyline intersect and overlap with another, like so many large ensemble dramas.

Every member of the film’s sprawling cast pulls their weight. Matt Damon shines as Mitch, husband to Paltrow’s Beth, and his helpless terror at the plight he and what remains of his family are in is contagious. As an epidemic specialist, Kate Winslet starts off as authoritative and imposing, and Winslet makes her characters’ slow deterioration hurt us just as much as it does her. As a self-righteous blogger, Jude Law is shamelessly smarmy, but his character never quite develops into a very compelling figure. Marion Cotillard is the film’s weakest link, playing another medical specialist whose character arc makes some pretty huge leaps that the screenplay can’t quite justify.

Thanks to its matter-of-fact structure, speedy pace and mostly strong performances, “Contagion” is a reliable, often chilling thriller. But more so, it’s a film that worms its way under your skin in some very subtle ways. It makes you extremely aware every time you touch your face, question every hand you shake and sends a chill down your spine every time you hear a cough or a sneeze. If that’s not the mark of a truly exceptional thriller, what is?

Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Fox and Anne Hathaway are among the slew of stars said to have done a detoxifying cleanse in the past either to drop weight quickly or to detoxify the body — or both.

The Master Cleanse is a popular fast that is meant to detoxify the system, give a person more energy and help shed weight. However, the cleanse may have detrimental effects on the body and mind despite its quick results.

The Master Cleanse calls for the practitioner to subsist on a drink of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days — and eat nothing. During this 10-day period, the person should drink six to 12 glasses of the beverage throughout the day, wedged between a laxative at night and a salt-water flush in the morning.

If you’re not eating food for 10 days, you’re definitely going to lose weight. But if you return to your old eating habits after the cleanse, you are likely to put the weight you lost back on.

“You know how people do a house cleaning, a spring cleaning? With their cars, they get oil changes. With the computer, they get them defragmented. When do you ever do that with your body? When do you give your body a chance to have a spring cleaning,” said Matt Shook, owner of organic and raw food bar The Daily Juice.

The Master Cleanse gained popularity in 1976 when Stanley Burroughs, a practitioner of alternative health methods, wrote a book called “The Master Cleanser” to teach people how to cleanse their bodies to rid them of toxins and illnesses. A variation of the book, “Lose Weight, Have More Energy & Be Happier in 10 Days,” written by Peter Glickman in 2004, popularized the diet again.

Neither Burroughs nor Glickman is a health professional, but they both believed in natural remedies for healing different ailments in the body. Burroughs’ book says that through following the Master Cleanse program, all illness and disease will go away.

He recommends to practice the Master Cleanse when sickness has developed, when the digestive system needs to be cleaned or rested, when being overweight has become a problem and/or when better digestion is needed.

In their books, Burroughs and Glickman say that by eating something with artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, we are taking in so many toxins each day that our bodies cannot eliminate all of them. Through cleansing the body by drinking the mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water, the body is able to process the fat the toxins are stored in and excrete them over a 10-to-14-day period. Burroughs’ book explains that lemons are a rich source of vitamins and minerals and have been used to treat stomach ulcers for decades. The maple syrup has a large variety of minerals and vitamins as well as sugars to give the body energy. The cayenne pepper is used to break up mucus and increase warmth in the body and adds many B and C vitamins.

“The first five or six days there are a lot of toxins being flushed into the blood stream,” Shook said. “You’re not making your body digest food. You feel a lot of toxins in your blood. You feel really heavy and lethargic. But after that, it’s like the sun comes out, you feel like an angel on earth. You feel as light as air, your mind is super clear, you feel very energetic.”

All three locations of The Daily Juice sell the Master Cleanse drink by the gallon, so people who are on the go can still follow the Master Cleanse by buying the premade drink.

“The Master Cleanse is a way to give people, give their bodies a chance to actually take some time to clean out,” Shook said.

Although the idea of a kind of “spring cleaning” for the body sounds like a good thing, we don’t need an extreme diet to cleanse our insides, said Bethany Dario, a registered dietitian at University Health Services.

Dario said that healthy people already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. She says that exercise is a built-in detoxification system as well.

“When we sweat, we release toxins through the skin,” Dario said. “It’s another reason that we should all focus on the behavior of routine healthy exercise for health.”

A cleanse might not be necessary for eliminating toxins from the body, and it can actually be harmful, she said.

Dario said that when diets or cleanses fail, the dieters or cleansers often tell themselves that they have failed. Shame and/or guilt are, in effect, the results.

“When an individual attempts to restrict food, it is highly probable the individual will start to be obsessive over the food and eventually end up overeating on it,” Dario said. “The general population seems to think that obesity and eating disorders are the right and left wings of nutrition, but I’d like to suggest both can be a result of food restriction.”