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Contracted - Review
Some films deserve to be good, as in, you really want to praise them for what they've achieved, but somehow you can't bring yourself to do so. In some way, they're flawed, and no matter how much you try to look past the problems, they keep getting in the way. Contracted is one of those movies.
Written and directed by Eric England, Contracted tells the story of Samantha, a young twenty-something whose trying to figure out where she's going in life. After being drugged and raped at a friend's party, things only get worse as Samantha soon discovers she's contracted a mysterious STD which is slowly destroying her body.
Body horror is back. I've wrote on several occasions about by abiding love of the icky side of horror and Contracted delivers it by the bucket load. The special effects are superb, especially considering the film had a rather modest budget and Najarra Townsend, who plays Samantha, does a pretty good job of conveying the horror of her situation.
So where does it all go wrong? The script. England's script is, frankly, abysmal and suffers from some incredible gaps in logic that it risks causing the whole movie to fall apart. It's pretty clear by about half way through the film that Samantha's condition is serious: there's blood coming out of every orifice and she's really not looking well. However, when she returns (in distress) to her doctor, he merely tells her that the test results haven't come back yet, ignoring the fact that she seems to be displaying some horrific combination of Herpes and Necrotising Fasciitis. Why the hell doesn't he get in touch with the CDC?
Then there's England's inability to create interesting characters. Whilst the acting, overall, isn't that bad, most of the characters are dull, and have so little to work with that it appears much worse than it actually is. Samantha's girlfriend appears now and again but, for some reason, talks in the most annoying faux-British accent, and comes across so unlikable, that we never connect with her at all. There's a vague sub-plot where it's implied that Sam was merely experimenting with being a lesbian and was possibly using her new girlfriend as a crutch to overcome a drug problem. It's an intriguing set-up and could have added some interesting exchanges between the two women but the sub-plot is ultimately wasted and is completely thrown away by the third act.
There's several other characters but they all suffer the same problem of being either unlikable or completely bland. It's clear that England tried to set up some drama between the various people but it never pays off, and in many cases, fails dramatically. Just as the doctor seems (hilariously) oblivious to Samantha's predicament, so too are most other people that she's around. Several characters seem willing to have sex with Samantha at the drop of a hat, even when half her face is rotting away and she's got maggots burrowing about inside of her.
In fact, if the film achieves just one thing it's as a huge advertisement for safe sex. Not since Eli Roth's (terrible) Cabin Fever has there been a film that will likely give Durex a huge spike in profits. It's unfortunate though, that despite being about sex and sexually-transmitted diseases, there's not a whole lot of metaphorical underpinnings in the way that David Cronenberg managed with his horror movies. It's almost as if England was wrestling with a lot of good ideas and didn't always know best how to explore them.
It's a big shame about the script because as a director, Eric England does a pretty good job. He manages to capture the horror in body horror, without resorting to complete gross out. Similarly, he's able to hold back on the really nasty stuff until later on, ratcheting up some level of tension despite the ineffectiveness of the writing. And as far as ideas go, there's plenty of good ones here, the ending, which I won't spoil, is a smart dovetailing of different strands of horror and ends with some great, if incredibly grotesque, imagery.
Unfortunately, none of this manages to quite make up for the tremendous stupidity of the writing. With many films, it can be possible to look past poor writing or direction if other aspects are strong enough. With Contracted, a series of stupid decisions and dumb moments threatens to topple it's many good elements. There's a really good, potentially great, horror film hidden within here, it's a shame we didn't get to see it.
Contracted was released on November 23rd, 2013.
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