“Contracted is what I hoped Fear the Walking Dead would have been on the zombie side of things. It is the journey of a young woman from life to unlife, and all the gory and disturbing aspects that accompany that transition.” – 3.5/5
Contracted is, simply put, body horror. More complexly we could say: It is what it would be like to become a zombie, filled with every grueling aspect of what would happen to the body as the transition occurred. Frankly, Contracted is essentially what Fear the Walking Dead should have been (with the better implemented back stories that already exist in FtWD).
The story is pretty straight forward at outward glance, it is the same story that’s been told over and over since the horror movies of the 70’s (ish). Premarital sex will kill you; I mean we all know that it’s always the chaste one that survives. Samantha (Najarra Townsend) attends a party at her friend Alice’s (Alice Macdonald) house, where she is awaiting the arrival of her partner Nikki (Katie Stegeman). The fact that Sam is a lesbian is spelled out in no uncertain terms repeatedly in the first half hour of the movie. I can only assume this was done to either explain the out of character actions she took, or because the writers were oddly obsessed with the idea this wouldn’t come across with subtlety. Honestly, I found it to be a little bit derogatory by the time the movie firmly establishes all three of the aforementioned women are gay.
Sam gets drunk with Alice at the party, and later while greatly intoxicated has sex with a mystery man. From here the movie is entirely about the repercussions for Sam both physically and emotionally. These ramifications manifest over the course of 3 days, each distinctly indicated by the movie. I rather liked this as it felt as if I were progressing through the chapters of a book. The timeline also added to the oddly steady state interest that possessed me while watching. I was never scared, nor horrified, tensed up or “grossed” out, I was simply continually engrossed which is actually not an easy thing for a movie to pull off.
The backstory however, is introduced sporadically throughout, and I really feel this detracts from the movie. For whatever reason the writer/s felt that spreading it out over the first and second acts would be better, or maybe it was just an oversight. All of the backstory which led to the characters acting as they did should have come out in the first act. This would have made not only the actor’s performances more believable but also would have made the overall story even better. But even this change probably wouldn’t have helped what was at best a weak and ailing (no pun intended) backdrop. This leads back to my comment about the better implemented backstories in FtWD, but the implementation of transition to zombie apocalypse was so poorly done. But I digress.
The reactions that most people had to Sam’s changing body were rather genuine and in keeping with what I think most people would be like with only a couple of notable exceptions. The doctor is either the dumbest doctor out there (and that’s impossible because my doctor holds that title), or because he has no idea what’s happening to Sam he chooses to ignore the glaringly obvious right from the beginning. In fact, he kind of sounds like my doctor as he assumes everything must be an STD (though I haven’t heard of one that makes you bleed from your eyes but I could have just missed it I suppose). The older couple at the restaurant where Sam works are the other exception, but this is obviously due to bad acting/editing.
Now for the nitty gritty. Contracted is among all the other things it tries to be, body horror. If you are uncomfortable with vomiting blood, finger nails being pulled/falling off, bleeding from the eyes and teeth coming out this movie will do you in somewhat quickly. It really is about what happens to the body as it dies and the person remains “alive” and ambulatory. Sam undergoes a progression over three days that moves quickly from excessive bleeding to the loss of different parts of her body, with the worst of it coming after all pain has stopped for her. For me it’s always the teeth being pulled out, nails peeled off and all doesn’t bother me, but something about teeth always gets me. This was the only part of the movie where I found myself squirming a bit.
After all this the last 20 minutes are where the movie actually shines. It is a slow burn up until that point and then with a simple suddenness it explodes. Despite some of the horrible things Sam does I actually felt like I connected more with her during this time than at any other point. She felt more “real” as an undead than she ever did as the living.
There are no real standouts as far as the actors go in this movie, and in fact most are rather bland and just okay. However, Contracted sets a tone that makes this feel perfectly in place (after the title screen I should say) and allows you to accept that maybe it isn’t mediocre acting but an attempt at capturing real people. Sometimes we forget what real people actually act like when we watch movies, having been fed the steady diet of always perfectly timed reactions and correct responses. It doesn’t happen like that in the real world and we all know it, and Contracted takes on a feel of the real world (with the previously mentioned exceptions), but whether this was intentional or accidental I’m not sure I could ever say. Najarra Townsend (Samantha) is very convincing in the final act. As I said earlier she’s much better as undead than alive, and gives Sam a realness that she was sorely lacking early on.
The ending I felt was perfect. It was a great conclusion, as I found myself wondering how this was going to play out about 30 minutes prior, and left me wanting more. This is the real key to a great ending as everyone knows. Contracted does just that, in fact it leaves you with the sense that the real movie started about 15-20 minutes before the end and that there really should be another half hour at least. I’ve said before that I find a lot of movies now give great build ups with unsatisfying ends. And while neither movie is a blockbuster, both Para Elisa and Contracted give a certain sense of satisfaction. The final fates of those involved were well deserved.
Other reviewers have stated that their are no likable characters in Contracted, but I guess that depends on what you define as likable. Are they good people? Not particularly. Are most people? Not really. But because of the following of Sam throughout (there is no deviation from her perspective) you do form a bond with her. Likability, goodness, these are all relative to how you perceive the person, and it’s up to each of us to decide what we think of Sam. I felt that her mother was the worse one, in complete opposition to a lot of opinion.
As fair warning I feel I should point out there is about 30 seconds of necrophilia that you have push through in the beginning, but it isn’t graphic and is mostly implied.
Contracted is what I hoped Fear the Walking Dead would have been on the zombie side of things. It is the journey of a young woman from life to unlife, and all the gory and disturbing aspects that accompany that transition. Horror, body horror, gore; categorize it as you like, Contracted is an engaging movie that suffered only from a few a minor and a couple of major flaws.
3.5/5 (genre). Worth watching, especially if you like zombies.