Review by Jude Felton
The body horror sub-genre is one that is probably best known through the earlier works of Canadian maestro, David Cronenberg. He pretty much brought it kicking and screaming, and oozing/bleeding/exploding, singlehandedly to the public consciousness in the 70s and 80s. Obviously the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as his son, Brandon, seems to be picking up the slack, with his tremendous debut, Antiviral. This cracking debut saw the light of day, on Blu-ray and DVD, through IFC Films, which is also the home for Eric England’s superior body horror(ish) Contracted.
Having not seen England’s Madison County, I wasn’t sure what to expect, in terms of tone or quality, but I can assure you it didn’t take long to see that Contracted was up there in terms of both.
Contracted, as a movie, could almost be seen as the anti-slasher for the 21st century. Whereas in the schlocky slasher flicks sex equals death; usually at the end of something sharp, Contracted takes a slightly warped look at a similar theme. Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is a young lass who, along with having high hopes of doing great things with her Orchids, goes to a friend’s party, with the hope of forgetting about her worldly worries.
However, a few drinks and one big mistake later, she finds that she has also been stabbed, and the consequences are far more drawn out than in your typical slasher movie. Thinking she has contracted an STD, she tries to cope with the negative effects to her body. However, it soon becomes apparent that whatever she did contract, is not an STD.
As is so often in the horror genre, sex equals bad things and here is no different. Where Contracted really works though, is that you don’t really know the what or why to the situation, until very late on. Instead, the film works more as an extreme drama, which is focused on Samantha’s relationships, rather than the horrors that are affecting her body. England could very easily have taken a far schlockier and gruesome road than he has here, and I’m thankful that he didn’t. Sure, there are some bloody and fairly gruesome scenes, but they all work well within the context of the movie.
The direction, and writing, are all executed and handled very well, for the most part. I was slightly concerned early on, with Samantha’s character seemingly alternating between an independent woman and a spoiled teenage brat; the distinction as to what she actually is (adult or child?), was hard to distinguish. However, as the film progresses this issue seemingly ironed itself out.
The cast, throughout, were uniformly impressive, especially Townsend. She grows into the roles perfectly, and she carries the heart and soul of the film perfectly. Alongside her, she is ably supported by a really solid supporting cast, which included a barely recognizable Simon Barrett, who is probably better known for his writing gigs, and the always wonderful Ruben Pla, as the stumped doctor. Hell, I could list the entire cast, as they are all good, but you can just head over to IMDB for the full list; it’ll save us both time.
What England has shown with Contracted is that he can take a deceptively simple premise, and turn it into a fresh and effective horror film. It’s worth going into the film knowing very little about it, especially the finale, as I think that’s when it will have its greatest impact. He’s definitely a director that has a good grasp of what makes good horror and film in general, so I will be keeping an eye open for what he delivers next.
Overall, Contracted is a quite wonderful horror movie, one which takes familiar elements from the genre and twists them into something fresh and exciting. Definitely well worth your time.
Contracted is released on March 18th on DVD from IFC Midnight.