For his latest feature, indie filmmaker Eric England takes a look at the horrific consequences of unprotected sex, how society values women and the demise of humanity’s concern for the well-being of others. A thoughtful and wonderfully cringe-inducing body horror story, Contracted is an often frightening and nasty exploration of isolation and desperation that grabs hold from the start and doesn’t let up until the film’s bitter conclusion.
Contracted follows a young waitress named Samantha (Najarra Townsend), who hits up a friend’s party only to be drugged and raped, awakening the next morning with little memory of the man who assaulted her. At first she believes she’s suffering from a really bad hangover, but soon enough Sam’s body begins to undergo some rather grotesque transformations unlike any sort of STD you were ever taught about in health class. As Samantha attempts to hide her ailments from everyone around her, she soon discovers that whatever deadly disease has taken over her body is something she has very little control over, leaving Sam only a short amount of time to come to terms with what is happening to her.
Why Contracted works so well is that England wastes very little time, which gives the film a great sense of urgency and realism. Diving right in with an opening that involves necrophilia, the story quickly gets right to the point with Sam getting infected shortly thereafter and from that moment on, Contracted’s poor protagonist just cannot catch a break to save her life. Not only is Sam dealing with some devastatingly gross changes to her body, but she’s also trying to deal with the loss of her recent girlfriend (Katie Stegeman) and being forced to move back in with her conservative and disapproving mother (Caroline Williams) while she tries to sort her life out.
And right when you think it can’t possibly get worse for Sam, it does (and man, does it ever) with England going for absolute broke on Contracted, crafting a twisted and truly unforgettable horror movie experience that feels like the cinematic equivalent of your senses getting gut-punched for nearly 80 minutes straight. England also gives Sam no chance to stop and really think about what is happening to her, only react, which keeps us feeling very present as she mutates into something that’s barely human. It’s an admirable approach that successfully immerses in Sam’s growing desperation and confusion.
While the performances across the board on Contracted were all solidly entertaining, it’s really Townsend who steals the show with a fantastic turn as the confused and embittered Sam, who is desperately searching for love and acceptance in a world that refuses to give her any of either. Townsend perfectly embodies Sam’s agonizing sense of disbelief and ignorance to what is happening with a role that required a lot of subtle physicality.
In all fairness though, Contracted does ask the audience to take a few logic leaps, especially later on in the story, where you’ll either be on board for or you won’t. As Sam continues to disintegrate before our very eyes, we see her startling transformation be met with a general lack of concern for her well-being from those who supposedly know and care about her the most. Some viewers may not be down for such obliviousness, especially since that feels almost like the complete antithesis of the rest of England’s collective efforts. However, I felt like everyone’s lack of response to Samantha’s increasingly troubling behavior and appearance in Contracted was akin to how Patrick Bateman was able to get away with his murder spree in American Psycho- people really don’t give a damn anymore unless it’s a situation that directly affects them somehow. A disturbing and sadly, just a little too real, statement on where our value system stands today.
And because much of the horror in Contracted is primarily focused on Sam’s transformation, England puts our heroine’s body through the proverbial ringer, having her character deal with a myriad of nightmarish ailments including losing some of her fingernails, hair and teeth, skin discoloration coupled with large, gooey sores and hordes of maggots and other creepy crawlies that have invaded her….well, I think you get the idea. Suffice to say, Contracted does a great job of blending together some shocking and a few subtle (albeit just as gross) moments of true physiological terror, resulting in one of the most effective body horror experiences of the last several decades, akin to a modest version of David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
An exceptionally well-made and unique spin on the viral infection subgenre, Contracted is by far one of the more twisted horror films to be released in some time. If Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion had you washing your hands incessantly afterwards, then undoubtedly England’s haunting and unsettling cautionary tale will have you rethinking any plans you may have to hook up with strangers (or maybe even having sex in general) in the near future.
Movie Score: 3.5/5