Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DVD Review: CONTRACTED (2013) [IFC Midnight]

Contracted (2013)

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The Movie

In today's germ-o-phobic world, the body horror film has taken a whole new place in our cinematic landscape. Whether it's procedural pandemic what-ifs like CONTAGION or nihilistic dramas like THE WALKING DEAD, the thought of disease wiping out humanity is ever-present on our screens; big and small. If you are the kind of person who gets terrified every year when the media starts blasting us with Seasonal Flu warnings, and you're constantly carrying a Purell bottle around with you, then Eric England's new film, CONTRACTED, is going to make you want to bathe in the stuff. Oh, and you'll probably never want to have sex again.

The setup is simple:
After a one night stand with a random stranger, Samantha contracts what she thinks is an STD... but is in fact something much worse.
Much worse, indeed... If that cover image up top doesn't key you into the fact that CONTRACTED is pretty liberal with the nasty stuff, then take this as a warning: Those who are grossed out easily should probably stay far away from the movie. 

Don't get me wrong, this is no AUGUST UNDERGROUND film. There's a lot more going on in CONTRACTED than just gore and bodily fluids for the sake of a gross-out. In a way, the film is kind of a parable for why you need to be careful who you take your drinks from and why you shouldn't take drugs. It's also one of the most effective long-form safe-sex ads ever made, and a fascinating look at exactly what a super-STD might do to one's body.

There's also a bit of family drama thrown in the film for good measure. Samantha is constantly at odds with her mother in what first looks like your typical teenage rebellion. However, as the film progresses, and we find out more about the characters and their pasts, we realize what's really going on, and it makes what's happening to Samantha all the more sad. Yes, CONTRACTED is not just gross, it's also kind of depressing. But I say that in the best way possible. If you're a nihilist, you'll eat this one up.

To say that I was impressed what Eric England was able to pull off in CONTRACTED, on what I imagine was a pretty small budget, would be an understatement. The film is well-shot, well-acted, and it's meticulously put together on a level that most indie horror films only dream of. From the opening moments of the film, England grabs hold of you and dares you to look away. However, for the most part, the movie is so damn good that you just can't divert your attention. England was also smart enough to keep the movie well under the standard 90-minute length. It's lean, mean, and it never settles for shock-filler. Yes, you might be repulsed by some of what you see here, but it all has its place in the story.

The acting is also quite good in CONTRACTED. Najarra Townsend does a wonderful job as Samantha, and her denial of the situation she finds herself in is completely believable and utterly devastating. Genre vet Caroline Williams (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, HATCHET III) is also quite good as Samantha's overbearing mother. Honestly, I can't remember the last time that I saw Williams in a role that was this good. Usually, she's given a lot less screen time, and is relegated to the cameo stable, but here, she gets her fair share of scenery to chew on. She's a little over the top at times, but it's not a problem. It works for her role on the same level that Piper Laurie's character did in the original adaptation of Stephen King's CARRIE; only Williams' character isn't really all that batshit insane.

The makeup effects in the film are really the other star. I'm not quite sure of the practical/CGI ratio in the movie, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of what's on display here was done the old-fashioned way. And that's very much to film's benefit because it makes it even that much more believable. Sure, the camera does pan away at times, leaving some stuff to the imagination, but when it doesn't, what we see is pretty crazy and very impressive. 

I'm not saying CONTRACTED is perfect. It certainly does have some issues. For one, I could have done without the last couple minutes of the film, as I think they almost knock it down into overly-familiar, conventional territory. I also couldn't help but ask myself why the hell Samantha didn't get a second opinion immediately after her first doctor kind of says "go get some blood-work and we'll see what comes up." However, my qualms are slight, and certainly not enough to detract from my overall opinion of the film, so I can forgive them without much inner-conflict.

Ultimately, CONTRACTED is an effective film that impressed me quite a bit. I think that England is a talented filmmaker, and this just makes me want to see what he has in store for us next. Is it the scariest film ever? No. Is it the grossest film ever? Hell no (there's a special place in Hell for AUGUST UNDERGROUND: MORDUM). However, CONTRACTED is a solid body-horror film that lays on the paranoia in an unrelenting fashion. I'm pretty desensitized to the gross stuff, and this made me cringe several times; not just because of what was happening, but also who it was happening to. These are all reasons why I have absolutely no problem recommending CONTRACTED.  Just be aware of what you're in for.

Movie Score


Extra Features

IFC Midnight's DVD release of CONTRACTED comes with a nice assortment of Special Features, including not one, but two audio commentaries. 
  • Commentary with director Eric England, editor Josh Ethier, cinematographer Mike Testin and composer Kevin Riepl
  • Commentary with director Eric England and cast
  • The making of CONTRACTED
  • Najarra Townsend audition
  • Animated pitch
  • Behind the scenes promo
  • Trailer

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