MRR Review: "Contracted"

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A young girl has a one-night stand with a random stranger and contracts, what she thinks is, a sexually-transmitted disease - but is actually something much worse.
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MRR Review: "Contracted"

Rating: Not Rated
Length: 78 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Directed by: Eric England
Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller

Body horror films play on a particularly effective set of fears. Unlike the adrenaline-fueled fear of the relentless stalker or the existential horror of the end of humanity found in zombie apocalypse films, body horror films are about a primal fear all humans share: that one day, the body that has served a person so faithfully will rebel, fall apart, and fail. Eric England's film "Contracted" plays on this fear, tying it in with the reckless sexual promiscuity and predation that still leads to so many real-life consequences today.

"Contracted" follows Samantha (Najarra Townsend), a young woman who falls victim to a predator at a party—an all-too-real possibility for many members of the audience. After B.J. (Simon Barrett) drugs her drink and takes advantage of her in his car, Samantha wakes up the next morning, hung-over and conflicted about the previous night's events. She dismisses what happened as just another mistake in a life full of bad decisions, but things soon turn much darker when she begins to experience the aftereffects of her encounter.

Samantha tries to rationalize away the early symptoms of her illness, writing them off as the effects of the drinking and the residual chemicals in her system. However, when lethargy and nausea give way to bleeding and skin discoloration, she begins to suspect something is seriously wrong. Her doctor can't identify the source of the problem, suggesting it's some sort of sexually transmitted infection, and as her symptoms quickly worsen, her mind rebels at the horrifying possibilities. As her body falls apart, she searches for answers, not knowing if her disease is going to kill her, or perhaps do something even worse.

The central theme of the movie is Samantha's struggle with what is happening to her, so the movie focuses most of its attention on the protagonist. Her circle of friends remains mostly in the background during the story, allowing the horrific effects of the disease to remain in the forefront of the audience's attention. The interactions the film does depict paint Samantha as a troubled and slightly shallow person, and most of her friends come off little better. Samantha's mother (Caroline Williams) hints at unexplored character development, suggesting a checkered past that may shed some light on the events of the film. Samantha's one likable friend, Riley (Matt Mercer), suffers greatly as Samantha takes out her frustrations on him in a particularly horrible way.

"Contracted" dances with the idea of becoming a darkly humorous send-up of youth culture and excess in Los Angeles, ground zero of the rootless youth of America, but it never quite manages to bring the message home. On one level, so many of the characters seem too self-absorbed to realize what's going on with Samantha and comprehend the true gravity of her situation, but the film never really seems to capitalize on this. The behavior of Samantha's friends comes off less as a statement about perception and empathy, and more resembles a hole in the plot: the characters don't seem to notice their friend rotting away in front of them until things have progressed far beyond the norm. Likewise, Samantha herself seems to take some alarming physical symptoms for granted, covering up and heading to work when any sensible person would be dialing 911 or calling for a priest.

Where the film succeeds—stunningly—is in the depiction of Samantha's rapidly progressing condition, culminating in the gross-out payoff in the third act. For this low-budget feature, the filmmakers scored a great coup in landing makeup artist Mayera Abeita, whose effects manage to be uniformly horrifying: on the edge, but never quite crossing the line into ridiculousness. As things slowly get worse for Samantha, the effects emphasize the gradually disintegrating state of her physical form, and even the most jaded horror fan will likely be cringing at some of the film's more disgusting moments.

Najarra Townsend's performance also helps carry the movie. Samantha is difficult to like, especially when she takes certain actions towards the film's unrelenting finale, but Townsend allows audiences inside the head of this woman, whose life and physical form are slipping away from her after one chance encounter. The depression and rage she feels at every bodily violation help give the film its emotional impact, drawing viewers into a world of revulsion and despair. Ultimately, "Contracted" serves its purpose, giving an unflinching look at what happens when a young woman confronts her own unexpected mortality and instead of finding nobility in her approaching end, lets the horror of the situation overwhelm her.

Rating: 3 out of 5