Written and directed by Eric England
Distributed by IFC Midnight
When I first heard the title “Contracted,” I thought it was about a hit-man. Then I saw the poster: At a glance, it’s easy to tell someone’s contracted a dread disease.
That someone is 20-something Samantha (Townsend), a waitress who’s trying to figure herself out – she’s juggling the challenges of her new lesbian relationship, the sad fact she’s been forced for financial reasons to move back in with her mom, and her budding fantasy floral career move. It’s a lot to think about.
So, when she’s invited to a wild house party, she drinks with abandon, throws caution to the wind, and winds up doing the nasty with a complete stranger in a parked car (which is, I guess, slightly more responsible than having sex in a moving car).
While certainly young Samantha’s judgment was impaired, perhaps the name “B.J.” (Barrett) and the fact that “B.J.” is a party-crashing, roofie-dispensing necrophiliac don’t help her case as being the most sympathetic heroine in recent memory. But the next day, as she suffers guilt and a helluva hangover, we start to feel for her a little more – what could otherwise have been a stock character is granted a tad of gravitas thanks to Townsend’s performance. She’s in every scene and must portray an amazing array of emotions and actions.
Soon Sam is bleeding and cramping up. But this is no ordinary menses… aside from her uterine lining, she’s also shedding maggots. Not to mention she has bloodshot eyes, is losing clumps of hair, and has begun hearing things. Her clueless, disease-phobic G.P. (Pla) can’t figure out what’s going on, but he’s sure Sam’s suffering is the result of some STD and she should be just fine soon enough. He doesn’t even bother prescribing antibiotics. She should have just gotten it over with and visited Dr. Kevorkian instead because what follows is a disgusting deterioration of Samantha’s body and brain.
Contracted isn’t exactly body horror, and it’s not quite a zombie film. The former is more cerebral, while the latter is action-oriented. Contracted is neither. It’s more along the lines of a life gone viral, somewhere between 28 Days Later and Cabin Fever. After an intriguing initial set-up and the introduction of some interesting, if simplistic, characters, Contracted just goes all-out on the gross-out.
Since I wasn’t expecting anything more than that (take a look at the poster again), I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was super-impressed by Townsend’s depiction of devolvement. The practical effects, reportedly done on a shoestring and in record time, are truly terrific. Mayera Abeita and her distaff team are truly ones to watch for! While England’s script is nothing special and can’t withstand its running time, his direction and illustration of black humor are strong. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
2 1/2 out of 5