Contracted (Eric England, 2013)
While I am relatively certain based on the poster art that the opening paragraph remarks below are not really a spoiler, but I will put this up here just in case. The following could be considered spoilers for the film.
Zombies have been used in film and literature for almost a century now as allegories for pretty much everything you can imagine that an author or screenwriter can find wrong with society. Mindless obedience to one’s masters? Check. Rampant consumerism? Check. Religious fervor? Check. Sexually transmitted diseases? Check. …okay, that one’s new. Contracted takes that tack, and while it misses a few points and you have to, how shall we say, willfully blind yourself to a few things, it does so in an amusingly gross way that I found somewhat delightful.
After an opening scene that was obviously inspired by Nacho Cerdá (even down to the lighting), we are introduced to Sam (Dawning‘s Najarra Townsend, much improved here). Sam, formerly a sexually-confused heroin addict, has finally gotten her life together. As we open, she is sitting in her car, about to go to a party thrown by her friend Alice (Alice Macdonald in her first feature appearance), and is calling her girlfriend Nikki (Madison County‘s Katie Stegeman) to find out if she’s coming over after work. She gets voicemail, and you can tell from Sam’s hesitancy in the message she leaves that all is not right in relationship-ville. Nor is it at the party, where in quick succession she runs into Riley (Among Brothers‘ Matt Mercer), a “nice guy” who’s kind of dangerously close to stalker territory, often hanging out at the restaurant where Sam and Nikki work; Zain (Rubber‘s Charley Koontz), her former dealer; and a very, very drunk Alice, who proceeds to talk Sam, who was planning on staying sober, into doing shots. Fast-forward to 2AM, Sam is very drunk, and she meets someone else—BJ (You’re Next‘s Simon Barrett). Not a nice guy; he ends up date-raping her. When Sam wakes up the next morning, she assumes she has a hangover, but there are a few symptoms that don’t feel too hangover-like. But man, when the second day rolls around, that’s when things really start getting weird…
There are two things you should really know before going into this movie that, perhaps, should have been made clearer by the filmmakers. The first is that while the movie is structured as a standard mystery-thriller, with Sam’s zombification as the Big Reveal, I do not believe for one second that what is happening to Sam was meant to be a surprise. Did you really not get it from looking at the poster? That is a strong indication to me that the journey was more important than the destination here. (Think about the opening scene of American Beauty, where Kevin Spacey’s character announces he’s dead, as a cognate.) The second, and by far the more important one, is that Contracted is not a horror movie. It is above all a drama, a character study of one former addict whose life is spiraling out of control after a traumatic incident that happens to use zombification rather than alcohol or drug use as its method of depicting Sam’s downfall. Because of the zombie aspect, England (Roadside), who also wrote, was able to incorporate black comedy elements into the script as well, and he did a pretty good job with those. Are you serioualy going to tell me you didn’t laugh when Sam’s boss, George (Larry Crown‘s E-kan Soong), tries to pass off her symptoms as pinkeye? The movie has taken loads of flack for the characters being blind to what’s going on with Sam. If this were a horror movie, they would be right. In a black comedy, those things make perfect sense.
On the other hand, the one criticism I see flung about messageboards regarding this movie I do have to agree with is the stupidity. Not of the other characters—like I said above, that makes perfect sense if you regard the movie correctly—but of Sam herself. Her initial dumb decision, to not tell anyone she was date-raped, is understandable in present-day American culture, where date-rape still carries a huge stigma (and even more so in Sam’s case, for reasons the viewer discovers towards the end of the film). But the farther on we get and the more radical the stupid decisions Sam makes, the less tenable the movie gets. How far would you be willing to go to conceal the fact that you’d been date-raped from your girlfriend? I’m pretty sure Sam crosses every conceivable line by the end of the movie. That’s what I meant up top when I said you’ve got to willfully ignore some stuff about this movie. But if you can, and you are willing to go with the gross-out scenes, this is a fun little movie. Worth checking out. ***