Contracted (2013)

I ended my review of  Writer/Director Eric England's Madison County by saying basically, I didn't love the film, but it was very clear that England was well on his to becoming a major player in the horror genre. And that I would be eagerly anticipating England's next outing. Well, it took me a while to see it but if Madison County was the warning shot across the bow to the horror community, England's latest release Contracted, is a direct hit.

Najarra Townsend is Samantha, a newly christened lesbian who is going through some growing pains with her new found relationship. Her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman), is becoming distant and Samantha moves back in with her mother (Caroline Williams). Still, Samantha really cares for Nikki and wants things to work out. To that end, Sam goes to a party at her friend Alice's house, hoping Nikki will show up. Sadly, for Samantha she does not. But her ex-boyfriend Riley (Matt Mercer) does adding to her discomfort. Samantha resists Alice's (who secretly loves Sam) peer pressure for a while but eventually falls victim to some shots. We get the sense there is more to the attempt at abstaining than we are told - and we would be right.

With all the ex/current/want to be lovers of Samantha hanging around, she doesn't notice the creep hanging out in the corner making his designs on her. He waits until she's thoroughly trashed and makes his move. Slipping a ruffie into her drink, he for all intents and purposes rapes her in the back of his car. Sam wakes up the next morning - hung over and bleeding heavily from her crotch. That's when all hell breaks loose.

England uses the next 45 minutes or so to make the best Cronenberg movie I've ever seen. From the trailer you can see some of the degradation that begins to happen to Samantha's body, but honestly the trailer doesn't do it any justice. There is a direct correlation to be drawn between Contracted and Cronenbergs version of The Fly. The escalation of symptoms is eerily similar. However, where as Cronenbergs film, at least initially, is very subtle about the changes to Seth Brundel even presenting the changes as positives. In Contracted, England goes for the jugular almost immediately. Once things go wrong - they go wrong fast and we know right off the bat that things are not good.

Allusions to The Fly are one thing but plenty of movies subtly feel like other ones. Where Contracted really stands out is the differences it has from the Cronenberg body horror films. Samantha's mental condition is exacerbated by the fact that no one believes her. And there is good reason for that. Her mother refuses to get her help. Refuses to be sympathetic to her. It's a curious thing watching a mother acting so disaffected by her daughter seemingly falling apart in front of her eyes. Until we learn the reason why. Like River Song - no spoilers here, watch the film but it's a wonderful plot device that England uses to create some real empathy for Samantha. And when Sam does eventually crumble under the mounting uncertainty - it makes it all the more difficult to watch.

We really do feel bad for Samantha too, which leads to the biggest issue the film has. The third act takes a bit of a left turn - and if you buy into it it will work for you. Again - no spoilers...but Sams actions kind of ruin most of the good will we have for her. Now, that could be the disease working in her, (I would have liked to see how the disease affected her thought patterns and processes personally) but it comes off as Sam just being a bit of a selfish bitch. Sam's naive selfishness is something that England really handles well over the first two acts. I don't think she's really selfish, just a bit confused and scared, but if that's the spin you want to take from it, it's certainly understandable - you can read it like that.

Questions about the third act aside, Contracted is one of the best horror films of the year. England as a director may still be slightly ahead of England as a writer, but the disparity between the two is not as great as it was in Madison County. Townsend is really very good carrying the film (I'm pretty sure she's in every shot) and I would be doing the film a disservice if I didn't mention how good Matt Mercer is. He was one of the best parts of Madison County, but I don;t remember him being this good.

Contracted is currently streaming on various VOD platforms and Amazon instant video. Watch it. It's really fucking good. DO NOT let you wife/girlfriend/fuck buddy/girl you plan on drugging watch it or you may never get laid again!

****1/2 stars out of *****

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