When it comes to zombie films, there are two words that are infrequently associated with them: subtlety and originality. A subtle zombie flick is an anachronism, and an original zombie film is a rarity. Sure, flesh eaters can be slow moving, sedate and quiet even when they’re on the move, but what they do to a warm body if they get their hands (and teeth) on one is anything but subtle. Subtle and rage virus zombies don’t even belong in the same sentence. And when was the last time you saw a truly original idea in a zombie movie? The answer is: as soon as you see Eric England’s Contracted.
Now of course, viruses have been the en vogue undead transmission method for a while, and usually via biting and errant blood sprays. Funny thing though, go check out any free clinic in a bad neighborhood and you’ll suddenly remember there’s one virus transmission method we don’t talk about much these days: the good ole STD. Thankfully we’ve made great progress in terms of HIV and AIDS; and even if one contracts that damn virus, modern drug cocktails are literally miracle workers. Herpes is still a bitch, though, but treatable as I understand it…at least that’s what the commercials say. But let me tell you, Valtrex ain’t fixing no zombie herpes. Nope, not gonna fix no zerpes, no sirree.
Contracted centers on Sam (Najarra Townsend), an adrift party girl who finds herself at a soiree thrown by lesbian pal Alice (Alice MacDonald), who knows that Sam’s just had a time out with her first real lesbian relationship, Nikki (Katie Stegeman), and is looking to step in to fill the void. But the attractive Sam has no shortage of male interest, including the shy Riley (Matt Mercer), a regular customer at Sam’s restaurant. But Sam isn’t interested…at least until she gets good and liquored up, and then she hooks up with another guy at the party, known only as BJ (Simon Barrett) in a one night stand.
The next day, she starts exhibiting signs of something that is making her lady parts bleed a lot, ruining her complexion, dental work, her hair and nails fall out, and generally whatever it is is making her look and feel like shit. At first she chalks it up to a hangover, then the start of her period, then when things start to get really bad, her doctor figures it for some kind of terrible STD. There’s always some plausible explanation for what it is, until there isn’t. And while it’s a source of growing concern for Sam, she’s caught up in relationship issues with Nikki, Alice, Riley and her mother (Caroline Williams), who is on her back about her relationships and former drug use, but is nevertheless trying to reconnect with her since she moved back in from living with Nikki. Meanwhile, Alice is in contact with Sam that the police are looking for BJ for some reason that she doesn’t know but we do.
England gives a slow burn to the whole zerpes thing and gives Townsend the room – even in a film that’s a breezy 78 minutes – to realistically portray how a young woman would handle this situation. She’s on the gradual Brundlefly, Roger Mortis disintegration trip. Townsend is empathetic as Sam as her world and her body go to hell. And again, subtlety is the word here. “Zombie” is never mentioned and there’s no apocalypse (at least not yet). No, this is an unfortunate zombiegeddon of one. England lets the viewer peel away a few details of Sam’s pre-zerpes life and how they’re informing on her current situation. And even though Sam starts looking bad, it’s manageable – or at least hide-able – until the end stages. Still, while there is subtlety, the gore is sufficiently cringe-inducing.
The STD angle is great and, unfortunately, suddenly relevant again as word has recently come out that apparently Millennials’ STDs are on the rise after a decrease in the ’90s, despite sex education in schools. I guarantee, if they replace those boring and awkward STD presentations we hated back in school with this movie, that’ll quickly change, ’cause damn. Contracted is from IFC Midnight and premieres on VOD and theatrically on November 22.
[Rating: 3.5 Stars]