Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Burning Sensations Are Not Meant To Be Ignored

STDs: one of the most horrifying dangers in the real world that can happen to anybody.

STDs in horror movies: one of the most horrifying dangers of the real world that really should be explored further.

Quick Plot: Twentysomething Sam isn’t in the best life place. Her sexy Australian girlfriend Nikki has become distant, her conservative mother is nagging, a past drug problem is cautiously haunting her, and a letter of acceptance for a competitive flower growing contest (go with it) hasn’t arrived in the mail. Such stress rends her easy prey to a lurking party crasher who passes her a mysterious red solo cup before committing date rape in the backseat of his car.

Despite her green thumb, nothing is coming up roses for poor Sam.

Things for from bad to really, really, super really did I say REALLY? terrible once Sam discovers signs of an infection. What starts as a rash and untimely vaginal bleeding quickly escalates into loose teeth, bloodshot eyeballs, ringing ears, and...well, let’s just say that actress Najarra Townsend is a very pretty young woman. 

Samantha three days into an unnamed sexually transmitted disease is...

Absolutely horrifying.

Written and directed by Eric England, Contracted is a short and incredibly focused spin on body horror. As Sam, Townsend occupies virtually every frame of the film and she equips herself quite well by not playing the part as a wounded ingenue. Samantha is confused, having recently identified herself as a lesbian only to find her greatest love slipping away. Avoiding any flashbacks or straight exposition, it’s up to the audience to piece her life together and England’s rather subtle choices make that (for the most part) quite easy and natural. We don’t need to hear about a drug addiction when a few trail marks tell us the same, just as Nkki's boredom with Sam is obvious from her performance, not dialog. Such developments demonstrate England to be quite a promising young filmmaker in being able to give us content without the obvious.

Also, yuck. 

Viral horror is rife with potential when it comes to genre cinema. In the case of Contracted, the film is so carefully grounded in the specifics of Samantha’s life that every fingernail falloff is felt. Yes, Samantha makes some of the dumbest decisions ever  found in film, but once we see where her relationship with Nikki has gone, they make sense. Despite her youth, Sam sees Nikki as the only worthwhile aspect of her life and to actively seek help for her infection would reveal that she was, in her mind, unfaithful. 

Contracted never acknowledges the fact that Sam was raped, but perhaps that’s part of its point. Sam is so ashamed of what happened to her while binge drinking that she convinces herself to ignore what is obviously a serious, serious issue.

See what I mean?

Running less than 80 minutes in length, Contracted tells a quick, simple story with a neat amount of underlying subtext. England makes the most of a small budget by focusing his energy so carefully on one character. Perhaps the film could have pushed harder, but as a first effort from England, it’s a good start.

High Points
Best known to most of us as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’s Stretch, Caroline Williams puts in a wonderful supporting performance as Sam’s judgmental (but deep down, rather loving) mom. It’s a wonderful coup for horror fans to see her here, but the fact that she handles the role with such personality makes it a win all around

Low Points
There’s something a little disappointing about the ending of Contracted in that (ambiguous spoiler), it ultimately closes on such a simple ‘horror movie’ note

Lessons Learned
Shots solve everything!

No, they actually don’t

Condoms. Really, truly, seriously, absolutely: condoms

Look! It’s-
Greendale College’s Dungeons & Dragons champion himself, Fat Neil! 

Now streaming on Netflix, Contracted is a fresh little film that makes for a solid, and very yucky watch. It will be exciting to see what else Eric England can do in the future with more resources in his arsenal. In the meantime, we'll just enjoy (and shudder at) this one.


  1. I'm going to have to watch this one. I heard of it, but I didn't really know what it was about until reading your review. Bravo, well-written piece. This definitely seems like something I'd get into. I'm going to check it out.

  2. Thanks Grimm! I'll be curious to hear where you stand after you watch it.

  3. I watched this today and liked it.
    Eric England is definitely one to keep an eye on.
    As you mentioned in your review it didn't bother with too much exposition and that's a good thing. Film is visual medium after all and director England knows that.
    The underlying message of the movie was pretty obvious though. You can easily replace Sam's fictional infection with a very real (and still very dangerous) one (there's even a 'hint' in the movie).
    Great performances all around, with the lovely Najarra Townsend taking the crown.
    I have to admit I wasn't too happy with the turn it took in the last act though. For me it took away the sympathy for Samantha.
    The final scene was a nice suprise (at least to me, didn't see this coming). As it turned out we were watching a

    *** spoiler? ****

    zombie movie

    1. Glad it's making the rounds! I've heard some viewers complain quite a bit about the character, but I completely understood why she made the decisions she did. I didn't agree with them, but they made sense in context of who she was and what she was afraid of. Townsend was excellent.

      And yes, SPOILER!


      I'd say we got a nice twist of 'zombie prequel!' in the final scene.

  4. There were a couple of things left unresolved though. We never learn much about the guy who raped her and why he was wanted by the police. Also, there was this strange scene when she was in a café with her girlfriend and this guy approaches her saying something like "Do I know you from somewhere?".
    It sounded like some kind of lame hook-up line but the way he (re)acted suggested something else.
    Maybe there will be some answers in Contracted 2, which is obviously already in production according to the imdb even though neither England nor Townswend seem to be involved.

    Btw, there's a movie that is very similar to Contracted called Starry Eyes. Maybe you'll like that one too.

    1. If memory serves, isn't the guy who approaches her in the cafe the guy who raped her? I also assumed the reason the guy was wanted was because he had been spreading the virus, or the authorities knew that he had it in his possession.

      For a barely 80 minute movie, there was certainly more that could have been fully cleared up. I wonder why England chose not to tie up all of those kinds of threads. It didn't bother me personally (especially since you saw everything through Townsend's character so there was a lot she wouldn't know) but I can fully understand that irking other viewers.

      Haven't heard of Starry Eyes! I'll look into it.