Contracted (2013, 1 hr 18 mins)
During the first 15 minutes of Contracted, I decided not to write a review or finish watching it because I had seen a similar film, Thanatomorphose, at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival last October. I had read comparisons between the two films and was curious about their similarities. After sticking it out to the end, however, I changed my mind. Contracted is the layman’s version of the more avant-garde, artsy Thanatomorphose, becoming almost a better film at times because of a more straightforward plot.
Sam (Najarra Townsend) is a listless, somewhat needy young woman who is a recovered addict. She is clinging to a failed relationship with Nikki (Kate Stegeman), avoiding advances from the slightly stalkerish Riley (Matt Mercer), who doesn’t quite get that Sam is a lesbian, and bumping heads with her mother (horror veteran Caroline Williams). One night at her friend’s party, she drinks a tad too much and meets a stranger who drugs her and forces unprotected sex on her. Oh, and the stranger? A total creep and necrophiliac. Sam awakens the next day to a strange period and horrible cramps. What ensues is a documentation of 3 panic-stricken days where her deteriorating health becomes the consequence of that unwanted, creepy “one-night stand”.
As I watched Contracted, I saw how easy it was to compare it to the Canadian film Thanatomorphose, and as I said before, I was going to skip a review, and the film, all together. But as the story progressed, I gave it a chance. I must say that yes, the two films are very similar in terms of the subject matter: the literal physical and mental decay of a female protagonist in 3 acts, however, Contracted gave the viewer an origin of Sam’s ailment. The backdrop of a sexually transmitted disease was an interesting take on her transformation into a monster, giving us a visceral account of what happens with unsafe sex and the lack of understanding from Sam’s family and peers. Thanatomorphose is definitely an art house film, with less direction except for the main character’s obvious decay, leaving a lot of room for speculation as to why she literally dissolves (you can read my review here).
I did have a few issues with Contracted. I really wanted to know the origins of the necrophiliac, B.J. (played by indie darling and writer/actor of V/H/S and V/H/S 2 Simon Barrett). The pacing was a little on the slow side (although not as slow as Thanatomorphose), and there were a couple of unbelievable moments like Sam being forced to wait on tables with what looks like a raging case of pink eye and horrible, graying skin. I don’t know any food server that would be allowed to work in Sam’s condition. There was also a love scene that was used for obvious shock and gore value, but I challenge anyone to tell me that a touch of makeup and a candlelit room is enough to hide horrific mouth sores and hideously veined skin. I mean, you are kissing that mouth and NO ONE is that love-sick or horny. And there was the matter of her being date raped. That fact seemed to be glossed over as a drunken interlude by her friends, family, ex-girlfriend and doctor which was very disturbing and seemed to make her more of a pariah as her illness progressed. To be clear (since the director was not), a “one-night stand” and sexual assault are not the same thing. Finally, Sam’s doctor was a judgemental moron. I don’t know if the healthcare issue in the U.S. is that bad, but any healthcare worker worth their salt would have admitted her to a hospital immediately after her second visit. At least in Thanatomorphose, Laura’s reluctance to see a doctor was consistent with her isolation. As an aside, I also found out that Thanatomorphose was the first of the two films to be released (in October 2012), with director Eric England coming in a close second, apparently writing Contracted in March 2012, filming it in May of the same year, and releasing it in 2013. Interesting tidbits on these sisters from different misters.
Despite those issues, I did like that Sam was a lesbian, which was a refreshing characterization and really added to the plot, her assault and her contracting this disease, and Townsend did a good job of keeping Sam’s growing panic consistent. Thanatomorphose had the most unsettling special effects makeup I have seen to date, but Contracted did well for a low-budget film, making me cringe several times as Sam’s body transformed and decayed. The third day, or act, was also quite good; a culmination of the first two days that snowballed into some really grotesque and horrific scenes, as well as Sam’s final moments in the film. I also liked the storyline and the paranoia it created around the already real and scary premise of contracting a deadly disease through sex. There is also talk of a sequel which I normally would look upon with dismay, but I’m actually curious about what director Eric England will bring us.
If you want excruciating, vile and food for thought (gulp!), watch Thanatomorphose. If you want more mainstream, but still indie, with a slightly (but only slightly) more digestible storyline, watch Contracted. Both body horrors deal with a woman, her body and loss of control, which to me, is quite horrific.