In Contracted a 20-something girl gets what she thinks is an STD after a night of reckless partying… turns out, it’s far worse than anything she could ever have imagined. Writer-director Eric England puts a strange, sexual new twist on the zombie genre, and he’s here to explain how and why!
Dread Central: OK, so let’s face it… Contracted (review here) isn’t for everybody. How’s reaction to the film been so far?
Eric England: Really positive actually. I am really happy with how they…. I don’t wanna say I am shocked, but I don’t think you go in thinking they are going to love it. It’s been really good.
DC: I would have to say I was shocked, I will use the word, because it’s not the kind of movie that is just another viral zombie thing… you really put a unique slant on it. I’m wondering how the idea came to you, and what you think makes it different from movies of its ilk.
EE: The idea really came wanting to do a movie that is kind of [in the] infection virus subgenre that I think we see played out… it’s the same thing over and over whether it’s zombies walking the earth or people walking around stabbing people with needles. There is a lot of the same stuff being hashed out in horror in general, so I really just wanted to reverse engineer it and kind of focus on one character and tell that story.
I have [also] been toying around with the idea of using sex as a device for horror because for me personally I find it to be so relatable. I think the best genre films are the ones that you can relate to that feel familiar to you since most people can relate to that.
So I saw the two as kind of a weird cousin, and I thought this would be cool if I do a horror film about a girl who thinks she gets an STD but it turns out to be something different and worse and it just kind of evolves from there. We shot in LA out of necessity. Originally [it was set] outside of the country [with] this layer of xenophobia where you’re in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, and that would have been really cool. but we just didn’t have the budget so we set it in LA. and I was like what better place to shoot a movie about unprotected sex and angsty young adults and stuff like that in LA.
That’s kind of what makes it different – it’s just trying to play it as close to reality as possible. You have this girl and it’s a very subjective film, it’s all through the point of view of her kind of. I don’t want to say it’s a bleak movie but it’s like there really is not a lot of great people in her life and then she has this horrible situation that gets thrust upon her and she is dealing with her own problems with her mom and her girlfriend. Then the sexuality also plays into a little bit of it. I think I wanted to try to, I don’t want to say make a progressive film, like you don’t really see people outside of a heterosexual lifestyle in genre films or if you do, they are more of like the butt of a joke. I wanted to really try to make something outside of the norm in almost every way I could think of.
DC: You talked about the people that surround her aren’t the best, and I have to say I agree with that! I am a friend of Ruben Pla’s and as soon as I saw the movie, I was like, “Ruben, you are the worst doctor ever!” It’s the funniest scene in the office, where he was like, looking at her ravaged body and goes, “Oh, you’ll be fine – take two aspirins and call me the morning!”
EE: Yeah, it was so fun to kind of balance that character with Ruben. He played the doctor in Insidious, which is how I kind of got the idea cause James is a buddy of mine and I was like, hey, I am going to steal your doctor. So Ruben was like, how do you want me to play this? Do you want me to play it straight, do you want me to do this? And I was like, no I kind of want you to be paranoid about AIDS and stuff… there [are] condoms in his doctor’s office and all these signs about STD’s and a way to tell your partner and you know, all this stuff. I want you to kind of have a hint at what it is but you don’t really know how to handle it cause you have never seen anything like this before.
If the movie was to really play as straight as possible, she would be just locked up in a hospital room and laying in bed for 90 minutes, and that’s no movie. (laughter) Kind of have to have a doctor that is a little questionable or not quite on their game in order to let it go. And I think it adds a little bit of humor. Even though the tone of the movie is very serious, it’s like I want people to hopefully get that we are in on the joke a little bit.
DC: And Najarra, she just keeps getting more progressively disgusting. Your practical effects were amazing; who did them, and how closely did you work with them on the look of her disease?
EE: Why, thank you. Mayera, she’s our makeup artist, and she is an incredibly talented young woman that we found. I forgot how we found her but we found her through the usual from a friend of a friend referral. Like I said, we didn’t have a massive budget for special makeup effects so we consulted with people saying this is how much money we have for makeup, so we knew coming out of it we couldn’t hire like a really cool effects person so we had to find someone who is an assistant on other films to kind of run the show and show what they could do, and that’s exactly what we found in Mayera. We told her, hey we have like two pennies and we need you to make it look like millions of dollars, and she was great.
I don’t think there was ever a time that she was like, we can’t do this and got so creative and crafty and was like, we can do this to make it look like this and that. And I knew going into it that it wasn’t going to be a very heavy prosthetic film because for me the key to the film was being subtle and building up to something that kind of reveals itself at the end of the movie. I didn’t want to go too far too soon, which I think worked to our advantage.
But we worked really, really closely in terms of testing the makeup, making sure it would look like this because like I said, I wanted to hint at something but I didn’t want to give it away too soon and so far it has worked. A lot of people at the last moments of the movie are like, oh shit, I didn’t realize that. You know, it’s been cool to see it work cause as a filmmaker you are constantly like, oh fuck, I hope this works. Just to see it work, it’s been a nice payoff. But yeah, we get so many compliments on the makeup; it’s just a huge testament to her and a huge testament to Najarra, the lead actress. Being in that makeup and pulling off a performance that people can get behind is not an easy thing to do. She couldn’t see behind those contacts and she was in makeup for like three hours a day sometimes, so shooting a movie with makeup and stuff is always a pain in the ass, and we only shot this movie in fifteen days. I think eleven or twelve of it we had her in makeup. It was a nightmare.
DC: How did you find Najarra, and what was the tipping point that made you think she could sell this character? She is in pretty much every scene.
EE: We searched high and low for an actress; we went out to a few that we really wanted to work with, but some of them had scheduling issues and others didn’t want to do it because of the subject matter, some thought it was a little too ballsy for them, and some we just didn’t have enough money for. So it was a challenge to find somebody, and at first I was all about, we need to find somebody with a name status that will attract attention, but then somewhere along the process I started to get cold on that idea and was like, you know, I’d rather find someone that is a really solid fucking actress who will carry this movie, [someone] that you just wanted to relate to… and when I said that Matt Mercer, my co-producer who also plays Riley in the film and who helped me cast the movie, he was like, I know this actress and I don’t know if she is right for it but I would love to see her. Originally I was thinking of getting someone a tad older… But the moment she walked into the room, I just knew she was perfect from her demeanor, her attitude, her charisma, her personality, her look, everything was just perfect. Literally when she walked out of the room, I looked at Matt and was like, she’s got it; it’s hers to lose.
In callback she nailed it again. She was just so consistent and perfect. Me and her just clicked right away. And I kind of put her through the ringer cause we did callbacks and so many different scenes. Then, after we decided, okay this is her, I still made her come meet me at Starbucks and my producer to make sure we got along cause it’s like you really have to trust the person who, like you said, is in every scene of the movie. And hell, now her fucking face is front page on the poster (laughter). So it’s like she is this movie, and you really kind of have to trust her. I would trust Najaar with my life and she would do the same with me. We clicked so well on set that now we are like buds.
DC: Now this film, as I said, is unexpected; you go in thinking it will be just your humdrum virus thriller, but I think as a writer and director you elevated it. You can kind of make this your springboard for your next feature, so I am wondering what you are planning to do next? What would you like to do?
EE: Well thank you. Yeah, I got a lot of things lined up… working has really been a necessity for me. I think I would go crazy if I am not working. This year actually, 2013, is the first year where I didn’t really shoot a movie and it was really to kind of take time to appreciate all the hard work that we put into Contracted. Cause Contracted came about so quickly. I started writing the script in March, and we were shooting in May. It’s a quick turnaround to shoot and get it out. Then a little over a year and a half later it’s coming out. You know, we never thought it would be going into theaters and all this stuff that we are getting.
When we were shooting Contracted, my first movie, Madison County, was hitting DVD so I never got a chance to enjoy that and so I took some time off to really let this one set in. I have a film called Hellbent that I am really exited to do and we are looking to shoot it next year. It’s from a really great writer named TJ Cimfel based out of Chicago and it’s a really cool story about this accident that happens at a mine and they send down a search and rescue team with this miner’s wife. They are trying to find the miners that have gone missing and realize they unearthed these demonic entities that are trying to posses people to reach the surface. So there is this element of The Thing underground. It’s such a cool and classic horror story to tackle. And in the next few months i am gearing to shoot a horror comedy that I have been working on with a new producer that we are looking to do several films together. So I got a few things that are on the horizon that I am really excited about.
DC: This Hellbent sounds quite the challenge… you have to shoot a lot of claustrophobic things, and in the dark. Have you done that before, or will this be a new fun thing for you to try?
EE: It will be a new experience for me. I think everything that I do I am going to try to do something that is drastically different from what I have done before, kind of like the horror comedy next since it will be a looser style and be kind of fun with it and Hellbent will be more contained. I have done contained before in my second film, Roadside, done in the element of possession and stuff so everything I do I try to keep it as versatile as possible.
Contracted tells the terrifying tale of a young girl who has a one-night stand with a stranger, contracting what she thinks is a sexually transmitted disease, but it is actually something far worse. As things begin to crumble around her, she’s sent on a disturbing and bloodcurdling journey, sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
The film is directed by Eric England (MADISON COUNTY) and features a who’s who of horror film and television thesps including Najarra Townsend (2005’s hit indie ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, “90210”), Caroline Williams (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, HATCHET III, “NIP/TUCK”), celebrated horror force Simon Barrett (V/H/S, ABCS OF DEATH, YOU’RE NEXT), Charley Koontz (“COMMUNITY,” RUBBER), Dave Holmes (“RENO: 911”), and Ruben Pla (INSIDIOUS), amongst others.
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