I remember watching an interview with Quentin Tarantino several years back where he talked about the figurative ‘umbilical cord’ that ran between the screen and the viewer, while watching a movie. He essentially stated that if anything happens during the movie that severs that cord, like the viewer getting confused or just not believing in what they’re seeing, then there’s no going back – the viewer is lost, and you’re not going to be able to find him again. It’s of course an utterly strange analogy, the kind you’d expect from someone like Tarantino, but I totally understood what he meant and I’ve never forgotten that idea.
Hold that thought.
Contracted, which hit limited theaters and On Demand outlets on November 22nd, is the new feature film from a young writer/director named Eric England, who previously brought us 2011’s Madison County. Centering on a one night stand gone about as wrong as it can go, Contracted stars Najarra Townsend as Samantha, a conflicted lesbian who has a little too much to drink at a party, and ends up having sex with the creepiest dude in the place. The film then chronicles the next three days in Samantha’s life, wherein she discovers that she’s picked up a horrific disease from her sexual encounter… and it’s unlike any STD that’s ever been documented.
It’s a solid premise for a horror flick, sort of Cabin Fever meets David Cronenberg, but where Contracted falls apart is in its execution. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the directing or even the acting, rather it was England’s script that ultimately led to that so-called umbilical cord being severed – and it honestly didn’t take that long for it to happen. Though Contracted starts out with promise, the promise of being a horrifying little slice of body horror, the big problem with the movie is that it’s just not believable. The characters aren’t believable, their actions aren’t believable, and their reactions to the situation most definitely aren’t believable. As a result, Contracted fails to connect on any level, amounting to nothing more than a series of effectively grotesque scenes that are broken up by long stretches of silliness.
Contracted is at its best when the camera is focused on Samantha and only Samantha, documenting her as she falls apart and literally decays in front of our very eyes. Her teeth fall out into the sink. Chunks of her hair end up clogging the drain of her shower. And a whole lot of blood flows from her mouth… and from between her legs. It doesn’t take too long before Samantha looks like she walked off the set of the Evil Dead remake, her transformation heavily inspired by Cronenberg’s masterful remake of The Fly.
Unfortunately, England for whatever reason made the decision to focus the majority of the film’s run-time on several pointless side plots, rather than focusing on the only thing he needed to focus on; Samantha. While Contracted had the potential to be an incredibly effective little gross-out flick, had England kept Samantha hidden away up in her room and simply documented her gruesome transformation, we’re instead treated to incredibly silly scenes of Samantha hanging out with friends, trying to win over her ex-girlfriend, going to the doctor and trying to keep her job as a waitress – all as she’s literally falling apart.
Most baffling of all, none of the other characters seem to be all that alarmed about Samantha’s condition and even her doctor brushes her off and sends her home. It all plays out unintentionally comedic, totally ridiculous and, most damagingly, wholly unbelievable. Even as maggots fall from between her legs and her body parts drop into bowls of food, nobody seems to think anything is all that wrong with Samantha – even Samantha herself pretends everything’s alright. The best explanation anyone can come up with is that she’s on drugs, which somehow in their minds explains the fact that she turned from a beautiful girl into a zombie, in only 24 hours. Hmm. Yea. That makes sense.
On the bright side of things, Najarra Townsend is solid in the role of Samantha, though her performance can’t distract from the fact that England’s script makes her a totally unlikeable character, one that it’s very hard to feel sympathy for. That said, she does her best, and looks particularly menacing when she’s fully decked out in the impressive makeup on display towards the end of the movie. Definitely some cool imagery going on there, so props to the makeup department for a job well done.
England clearly set out to make a sex-ed film by way of David Cronenberg, but the end result is an effort that unfortunately was doomed from the start, thanks to a poor screenplay. Still though, it’s a far better film than Madison County, which leads me to believe that England is not a lost cause as a filmmaker. He’s got a lot of talent on the filmmaking front, in fact, I’m just not sure his writing skills are on the same level. Had the screenplay been as impressive as the directing, we could’ve had a really solid piece of cinema on our hands here. Shame, really.