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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO IFC Midnight
RUNNING TIME 84 Minutes
• Commentary With Director Eric England, Editor Josh Ethier, Cinematographer Mike Testin, and Composer Kevin Riepl
• Commentary With Director Eric England and Cast
• The Making of Contracted
• Najarra Townsend Audition
• Animated Pitch
• Behind the Scenes Promo
Use a condom or you might get zombie AIDS.
Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice MacDonald, Katie Stegman, Matt Mercer, Charley Koontz, Simon Barrett
After a lapse in her relationship forces carefree (and careless) Samantha to move back in with her overbearing mother, her life seems to be at an all-time low. But things get even worse when a chance encounter with a mysterious man following a night of heavy partying leaves her hung-over, guilt-ridden – and infected. Uncertain of the disease or the man who gave it to her, Samantha attempts to hide it from her loved ones. But she soon realizes that she is not just the victim of an STD, but rather the host of something much more catastrophic, and that she and those around her are in grave danger.
Do you know what’s even more over-done and obnoxious than zombies? People complaining about how overdone and obnoxious zombies are. Yes, the market is over-saturated right now, and we’re just not used to seeing fringe properties in the mainstream, but people who believe that all the good zombie stories have been told are stupid. Creativity is not a finite resource. Were there no more good westerns made after the 60s? Were there no more good action movies made after the 80s? Were there no more good detective stories after the 40s? The suggestion that a genre rots on the vine after it has come to prominence is ludicrous, if anything over-saturation ensures that more clever fringe properties that never would’ve gotten a second glance before now stand a chance of being discovered because “zombies are popular now!”
Now, yes, I make the concession that this scatter-shot method of production is going to lead to a lot of awful and lazy zombie stories as well but I’ll take 40% good zombie movies over the year 2002 where 100% of the notable zombie movies released in the United States were Resident Evil. (28 Days Later was released in the UK in ’02, but didn’t make it stateside until June of ’03.) And I’ll suffer through a million awful uninspired movies for just a few more like Outpost, [REC], The Revenant, or Wither.
Contracted is a familiar subject viewed from a different perspective. We know from pretty early on that Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is going to turn into a zombie and likely kick off the end of the world, but the movie is more interested in who Sam is and what she’s leaving behind. So, while Contracted is ostensibly a movie about zombies, it’s actually a curse movie like Curse of the Demon, Drag Me to Hell, Thinner, or The Beast Within. Even though Contracted’s “curse” is bereft of any magical or supernatural influence (except the magic of bullshit movie science) it follows the same rules of curse movies.
The movie opens on a man having sex with a corpse before switching perspective to Sam as she she attends a party thrown by her friend Alice (Alice MacDonald.) Sam’s on the rocks with her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman) and living with her sanctimonious homophobic mother (Caroline Williams; Stretch from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.) She’s been out of the party scene because of her substance abuse problems, so naturally Alice and her friend/dealer Zain (Charley Koontz; Fat Neil from Community) encourage her to drown her sorrows in alcohol and drugs. In a moment of weakness she meets BJ (the aforementioned necrophiliac), who takes advantage of her impaired state and has a not-very-consensual rendezvous with her in his car. From there she begins to physically and emotionally deteriorate, causing everyone around her to become concerned.
First, I want to say that Contracted is a wonderfully made movie with a lot going for it. All the cast is great, sound and picture are crisp and well staged, there is not one technical issue that I had with this movie. The make-up department really hit a home run here with Sam’s understated zombie make-up which is blatant enough to show that something is definitely wrong with her but not going too far too fast. The real crown jewels are her eyes, which grow increasingly awful looking as the movie progresses, but also look entirely different from one-another, which I thought was a nice touch.
Another little detail I enjoyed was that in an age where AIDS is still largely considered “the gay disease” the movie tells the story about a woman in a same sex relationship that gets a life-threatening STD from a man. It’s not ground-breaking or meaningful but I felt like it was a subversion of expectations and I liked it.
Those are all the nice things to say about this movie.
While Sam’s messed-up eyes are a great effect, I find it strange that she can still see after about the first twenty minutes of the film. In fact Sam seems to decay in a strictly cosmetic way. We see her lose her hearing at one point but it comes back and is never mentioned again, she doesn’t go into rigor mortis, her skin doesn’t slough off, her body doesn’t puff up with gasses, she just gets really gross looking. The eyes are also the only visual sign of degradation that hasn’t been done to death in other movies. There are other ways to show decay than teeth falling out, fingernails peeling off, and tufts of hair falling out in the shower. We’ve all seen The Fly. Do something different.
Curse movies are hard to pull off; you have to make the protagonist likeable but also make them just awful enough to deserve some of what they go through. It’s apparent pretty quickly that Sam is a rather despicable person who cares more about being wanted than she does about caring for another person. To compensate for Sam’s horribleness the writer has made all the other characters far worse than she is. Nikki is a hateful shrew and just shy of being a “militant lesbian” trope character. Sam’s best friend Alice knows what’s wrong with her, and that the police are looking for her, and wants to get her help but her solution is just to tell Nikki that Sam slept with a man even though she knows Sam was date-raped. Zain is an enabler and just a dirt-bag in general.
Sam herself seems less interested in fixing her problem than she is with getting back with Nikki. As she gets decayed and desperate, her attempts at bringing some normalcy back to her life she seems more like a drug addict, but this movie is called Contracted, not Addicted, so I really don’t see what the point of this is. Sam’s killer STD just kind of takes a back seat, becoming more of a red-herring than the flesh-eating liquor from Street Trash. What is the thesis statement here: “Use protection when creepy necrophiliacs date rape you?”
Even when the killer STD comes back into prominence at the end of the movie it’s largely for gross-out potential. Sam makes some weird decisions, even for her, and randomly decides to infect and/or kill somebody who has done nothing to her for no reason at all. Maybe this is meant to be a commentary on how some people with STDs selfishly continue having unprotected sex, causing others to be infected, but in the context of the story being told here it doesn’t really make any sense.
The setting and characters also come across as very flat. There’s not a lot of world-building here, most of what I know about the characters is what they say about each other, not how they act. It feels like anything that Sam’s not interacting with stops existing the moment she no longer shares a space with it and that really took me out of the movie.
Contracted has a killer premise but it spreads itself too thin with half-baked human drama, putting the focal plot point which reeled viewers in to waste. I was reminded of Dead Girl and Grace, two similar outside-the-box indie zombie movies that just kind of meandered around when it was apparent that their creators ran out of ideas after coming up with the pitch. It’s just a movie that’s too unambitious to live up to its own potential.
Contracted isn’t a bad movie and if you get something more out of this than I do, more power to you. I seem to be in the minority in not liking this one and I’m not really sure why I didn’t connect with it when so many others did, but since it’s my review then my opinion is the only one that matters here. It’s directionless and forgettable and in a lot of ways that’s worse than just being outright awful.
There are two commentaries, neither of which explain any of the character motivations I didn’t understand. There’s a “making of” documentary and a trailer, as well as an animated pitch that has a nice sense of humor that the movie itself could have benefitted from.
The movie is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc has English and Spanish subtitles.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars