Available on U.S. Netflix right now is another film from Arkansas writer/director Eric England; Contracted, is a morality tale film with a twist that viewers will not see coming. Despite leaving enough signposted hints that should tell the eagle-eyed audience member in advance how this story will end, the final frames will surprise and impress the viewer. The film is clever, subtle, and gently eases the audience into the gripping story of a lovelorn woman who loses everything by the time the end credits roll.
Contracted follows the romantic, and otherwise, fortunes of Samantha (Sam), played with almost paranoiac perfection by Najarra Townsend, who at the beginning of the film has broken up with her English partner Nikki Stegeman. Sam lives with her mother – played by horror film regular Caroline Williams – and the two do not get along. Sam goes to a party hosted by Alice, played by Alice Macdonald, who loves the young lady in question.
At the party, Sam is approached by her “old drug dealer” Zain, played by Charley Koontz, and by another lovelorn friend Riley, played by Matt Mercer. As Alice zeroes in on getting Sam “wasted” a bald man, called BJ, at the party “zeroes” in on Sam. Later BJ gives her a drink and then takes her out to his car to have sex. It is “date rape” and unprotected, i.e. sans condom.
The day after her sexual encounter in the back of a car, Sam begins showing signs of illness and it seems that she just may have picked up a pretty nasty STI. It from this point on that the protagonist’s life heads swiftly and steadily downhill.
The pacing on this movie is superb. Not too fast nor too slow, it runs at a steady pace and if it were a book, the film would be referred to as a “page turner.” It is literally impossible to stop watching this little taste of sexual/horror pathos. On top of all else, England proves that bucket-loads of gore are not required to sell a good horror film.
Contracted follows the standard morality tale requirements, but with a twist. Like most horror films, as stated so well in the Wes Craven 1996 film Scream, characters who fail to follow society’s moral and ethical paradigms are doomed to die.
The rules, which have become cliches over the years include, teenagers drinking alcohol illegally, premarital or promiscuous sex, drug taking, et al. There is even a touch of “Bible Belt” morality thrown in for good measure. All three of the young female protagonists are lesbians or at the very least, in terms of Sam, bisexual.
The movie also warns against the perils of having unprotected sex. “No glove, no love” is the new chant in terms of coitus protectus. After the one night stand in the back of a car, Sam’s life has literally been ruined. Not in an unwanted pregnancy but in a life changing sexually transmitted infection that seems catastrophic.
Changes that Samantha goes through include reddening of the eyes, and one pupil going white; veins becoming visible, bleeding of the nether regions and the vomiting of blood. She also loses a tooth, some fingernails (in what has to be one of the most cringeworthy scenes in the film) and her sanity.
The amount of subtlety in the script and the scenes is impressive, and may be due in part to the small budget, but it works beautifully. In one scene one tiny squirming maggot leaves the viewer in a similar state as they wonder just what is going on down there. In this film, less is best and director England proves it.
If there were any complaint to be made in terms of the film, it would be the faux English accent by the actress who played Nikki. The dialogue itself was spot on. Using “post” instead of mail and so on. However the amount of effort spent in cutting off the t’s felt a little like the Dick Van Dyke school of English accents and should be softened in future.
A special stand out moment, or moments, has to be the double nod to another horror film classic The Abominable Dr Phibes starring Vincent Price. Viewers will, no doubt, cringe and gag, at this reference that occurs not once but twice. Afterward the urge to applaud this “homage” will be difficult to resist.
The surprise ending is another standout moment and Contracted, the morality tale with a twist, is a definite winner in horror terms. Focussing on the societal and sexual hangups and paradigms that control everyone. Catch it right now on Netflix or it can be obtained via Amazon.
By Michael Smith