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Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

[Genophobia] Contracted (2013)

Contracted - Poster Image
Poster Image
Young nouveau-lesbian Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is going through some relationship problems with her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman), so she attends a party and allows her gal pal Alice (Alice Macdonald) to wash her woes away with booze. Once fully intoxicated, she lets her guard down long enough to be given a drink by a stranger calling himself B.J. (Simon Barrett), and the next thing she knows, they're having sex in his car. She asks him to stop, but he doesn't.

The next morning, she wakes up badly hungover, most everything from the night before a blur. Almost right away, it is evident that something is wrong with Sam. It begins innocuously enough—she's got a case of the chills—and she could just as likely be coming down with a cold or the flu. But soon enough, other symptoms begin manifesting.

Her period starts, and the blood flow is abnormally heavy. She's also beginning to develop a rash on her genital area, and she's suffering from occasional but severe ringing in her ears. Her heart rate slows down, her eyes start losing focus (by the end of the film, one is blood red and the other is milky white), and her teeth, fingernails and hair start falling out.

"You look like death" is a phrase that you hear often to describe someone who is sick, but in Sam's case, it is actually quite accurate. To be even more accurate, she looks like the dead. She's rotting like a corpse while still alive, the result of a new and unidentifiable STD. Her life is falling apart much as her body is, and she eventually succumbs to a homicidal rage that previously was never even hinted at.

In the finale, Sam passes out behind the wheel and winds up in a car accident. When she emerges from the vehicle, she is no longer acting like herself. In fact, she's barely acting human. Instead, she stumbles around slowly and drunkenly, reacts violently to those who attempt to assist her, and then lunges at her mother (Caroline Williams). The screen fades to black as we realize what has happened: Sam has died in the car accident, and was reanimated as a zombie, not due to happenstance, but because of the virus that she contracted from B.J.

Contracted - Toe-Tagged
Toe-Tagged
In order to make some sense out of the ending, we have to venture back to the beginning of the film. In the pre-credit sequence, it is implied that a man—presumably B.J.—has sex with a corpse in the morgue. Granted, it's not all that clearly implied, and I can't imagine the position that the disgusting act was being committed in (she was lying on her back, and the only thing visible on camera were her legs, however his legs were nowhere to be seen). B.J. apparently didn't notice the biohazard symbol on the corpse's toe tag, or surely he would have double-bagged it. Whatever biohazardous pollutant was contained in that shell of a person, it was passed onto B.J. (though he never displays any visible outward signs). And then, when he raped Sam, he passed it on to her.

Yes, raped her. In a rather insensitive move, marketing material called the sex act between Sam and B.J. a "one night stand", when in reality he slipped her a roofie and refused to stop when she asked him to. Even many reviews of the film make it sound like a regrettable, but consensual, act—though to be fair, this is likely not out of any sort of indecency or moral acceptance of rape. It's just that so much of this movie was a muddled mess that the real facts may be easy to miss.

This movie is filled with what can only be called broken relationships. Sam and Nikki's relationship was damaged long before the film started. Sam and her mother's relationship has been strained for quite some time, probably stemming from Sam's former drug addiction, but no doubt worsened by her mother's inability to deal with Sam's "alternative" lifestyle. Sam's best friend Alice is actually in love with her, and she is just biding her time until Sam and Nikki break up. And the desperate Riley (Matt Mercer), who has been longing for Sam to return to heterosexuality, exhibits behavior that borders on stalking. These are all unlikable characters—even our protagonist, Sam, who is weak, shallow, and emotionally manipulative—and that's one of the weaknesses of the film. If we don't like a character, we are not emotionally invested in their well-being, and much of the possibility of true horror is lost.

Not only are these unlikable characters, they are completely irrational. It's one thing for me to accept the fact that Sam would not check herself into the ER when the symptoms began to get worse—this likely isn't the first time she's been in self-denial, and it's feasible that the zombie virus is altering her thought process. However, I find it neigh impossible to believe that nobody else in her life would make her seek immediate medical attention. In fact, they act as if they barely even notice her rapidly deteriorating appearance, and a few of them are more than happy to make-out with her (or more). When she seeks comfort in the arms of Riley, she does her best to disguise her appearance, but he still must be blinded by his obsession. They immediately set about engaging in unprotected sex, and he seems pretty proud of himself when he states, "Oh my god, you're really wet," not realizing that the lubrication is actually caused by blood and vaginal rot. He doesn't notice that anything is wrong until he pulls out, and a pile of maggots fall from her crotch.

When Sam does eventually visit the doctor, she chooses perhaps the most ineffectual gynecologist of
Contracted - Unsexiest Lesbian Scene Ever
Unsexiest Lesbian Scene Ever
all time, whose initial checkup involves her mouth, ears, heart, and panties. He completely avoids examining the one area that he specializes in, and the one area that really should be examined in order to diagnose an STD. His only advice to her is to avoid all contact with others—a self-imposed quarantine—until they can determine what they're dealing with. I've read in interviews with writer-director Eric England that he didn't want the audience to grow tired of people showing concern for Sam, and so he tried to balance it out rather than have it show up consistently in the dialogue. I can understand this rationale, but all it would've taken was one scene where Sam was hospitalized to make this whole scenario more believable, and if she quickly escaped, well, more power to her!

Another weakness that I perceived in the film is some of the more glaringly oblique moments. England has stated elsewhere that he enjoys leaving certain aspects of his films a little ambiguous, which can be a strength in certain instances, but it can also work against a film if there are too many questions left unanswered. A few of the most prominent examples:

Contracted - The Porcelain God
The Porcelain God
In the opening sequence, after B.J. has had his way with the corpse, he can be seen standing at a sink, rinsing out the contents of a test tube. As it is implied that the zombie virus was transferred to him via his contact with the corpse, and not through some sort of chemical agent, what exactly was in the test tube is up for debate. While it may not seem to be an important point, the fact that the camera lingers on it does imply otherwise.

In that same scene, viewers can catch sight of a tattoo on B.J.'s finger, which appears to read 'Abaddon', the name of a Biblical entity that is associated with impurity and plague. It's feasible that this was just something of an Easter egg for the astute audience member, but it's also possible that it holds a deeper significance.

Later in the film, Sam is drinking at the bar when she sees B.J.—or so it would appear, as she notices the Abaddon tattoo. However, it has already been established that B.J. is in police custody at this point. Are we to believe that B.J. has been released/escaped? Or that Sam is hallucinating this encounter? Or is it a completely different man who has the exact same tattoo? If this last possibility is the case, then it certainly implies a much deeper conspiracy than we previously had reason to believe—perhaps an Abaddon doomsday cult, willfully bringing the apocalypse through the spread of the plague.

I contacted Eric England, in part seeking clarification on ambiguous points like these—though his response was slightly less than enlightening.

"Thanks for the insightful questions about the film. To be completely honest, your questions are exactly the questions I wanted the viewer to ask and because of that, it's hard for me to give definitive answers. I feel like if I did the discussion would end. The theories are what make the questions so intriguing, in my opinion."

Watching a film that depicts the onset of a zombie outbreak via a sexually transmitted disease, one can't help but see some aspect of social commentary in the subtext. If England was intending to deliver a message, however, it is mostly lost in the shuffle, and overridden by conflicting viewpoints. The most obvious message would be a simple one, and one that could be delivered without coming across as moralistic or preachy: practice safe sex. That's a message that most anyone can get behind. However, by having Sam being drugged and taken advantage of, it negates that message. Rape victims can not be held accountable for whether or not their attackers use protection. It would have made for a stronger film if Sam had willingly slept with B.J., and then immediately regretted it afterwards.

Despite the weaknesses and missteps outlined above, I didn't wholly dislike this movie. As far as body horror films go, this one has some definite strong points. The special effects are pretty phenomenal considering the low budget, and when Sam is alone, attempting to come to terms with the effects that the virus is having on her body, the movie is at its best. It manages to capture a unique blend of dread and isolation that you don't normally find. It's only the scenes with other characters—portrayed by capable actors as they may be—that the weaknesses start to show.

So CONTRACTED, then, is something of a prequel to a living dead franchise that was never made, with Sam effectively being Patient Zero. This revelation at the end is appreciated by some, but derided by others. I thought that it was a rather clever conceit, but perhaps not as original as England had intended.

The Internet is full of people shouting that CONTRACTED is a ripoff of the 2012 Canadian film THANATOMORPHOSE, with which it shares certain similarities—namely, the lead character coping with the fact that her body is decomposing before her eyes. I have yet to see THANATOMORPHOSE myself, and so can't speak on the legitimacy of this claim, however it should be noted that RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III (1993) and the decent but little-known indie effort SHADOWS OF THE DEAD (2004) dealt with the same slow descent into zombism even years prior to that, though in those instances we knew what was occurring from the onset.  The gimmick here lies in the delivery, like a good joke whose punchline you never see coming.

CONTRACTED is worthy of a watch, and in fact deserving of at least two—one before you know the outcome, and another  viewing after you know the outcome, to catch any of the subtleties that you may have missed.  A sequel is in the works, but England is in no way attached.

Perhaps a part two will help to clear up some of the mystery...even if that was not the original intention.


—J/Metro

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