Madison County was a horror that had it’s flaws but, showed some potential for writer/director Eric England and his latest flick Contracted shows some growth in that potential, but is sadly dragged down by an increasingly absurd last act and a predictable and silly conclusion.
The film opens with what looks to be someone having sex with a corpse in a morgue and then switches focus to Samantha (Najarra Townsend) a bi-sexual young woman who is going through a break-up with her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman). Sam gets drunk at a friend’s (Alice Macdonald) party, gets drugged and has sex with a strange man named BJ (Simon Barrett). Almost immediately the next day, Sam starts to feel ill and begins to hemorrhage from between her legs. As the hours pass Sam becomes increasingly sickly forming a rash and starts to experience loss of hair, nails and teeth. Her doctor thinks it may be a sexually contracted decease, but Sam feels it’s impossible having just slept with that one man 24 hours earlier, though she’s not sure if he used protection. Making matters worse, her mysterious lover “BJ” is being sought by police for unknown reasons. As Sam continues to degenerate, with bloodshot eyes and increasing sores, and without any clue as to what’s happening to her, her life spirals out of control. As she starts to become more and more unstable, she becomes more and more violent. What did BJ pass on to her and what is happening to her?
Writer/director Eric England had me hook line and sinker with the first two acts of this flick. The concept of this young woman contracting some plague-like sexually transmitted decease from not-entirely consensual sex on a one night stand, was effectively portrayed by both director and actress. The scenes of her initial hemorrhaging are very chilling and Najarra conveys Sam’s confusion, fear and denial very well as she degenerates. We also have the added tension of knowing her one night stand is now sought by authorities for an unknown reason. The fact that her mother (Caroline Williams) wants to pass it off as Sam’s return to drug use and her doctor (Ruben Pia) believes it’s something sexually transmitted only adds to her frustration and terror. That fear translates to the audience, but the film starts to degenerate, much like Sam, in the last act by just taking the concept to absurd levels. With Sam becoming violent to the point of homicidal, anyone who has seen a horror movie can figure out what is happening here. I won’t spoil it, but it becomes obvious as her violent behavior telegraphs the silly and thus predictable ending. Another thing that becomes completely ludicrous is that her doctor is sitting there looking at this woman literally falling apart in front of him and never once suggests she get to a hospital or needs immediate help, much less be quarantined. She degenerates over a mere three days and the doctor never once suggests or feels this is something possibly far worse than an STD. Even her friends seem to pass it off as she ‘looks bad’ but none seem overly concerned that her nails have fallen off, her eyes are blood red and there are sores and veins popping out on her face. One character (Matt Mercer) even has sex with her despite all this and blackened teeth to boot. It’s a female version of The Fly happening right before their eyes and not one of them seems overly alarmed…. Really? It just gets ridiculous and ruins the nerve-wracking set-up of the first hour. By then we’ve figured out where it is going and our suspicions are verified by the silly climax. It’s just very disappointing that such a well executed and written story, collapses into such a routine conclusion. It feels like a cop-out that England couldn’t end this on something far more clever then a horror movie cliché…and one currently overused at that.
As for the cast, at least England gets good work out of all of them. Najarra Townsend is really good as Sam and conveys her fear, frustration and confusion very well and her performance and England’s direction really help make the first hour of this flick very strong, before it collapses towards it’s silly conclusion. It’s her show and she shows some real chops here. The rest of the cast are fine with William’s being good, as always, as Sam’s religious mother and Macdonald being appropriately ditzy and self-absorbed as ‘friend’ Alice. The rest are all quite adequate and it’s a shame the story didn’t keep up with the cast.
Overall, I still feel this film is worth a look. It has a very strong and disturbing first two acts and some nice work by the actors. The first hour is very effectively directed by England and it’s disappointing he let’s the story go from a frightening commentary on STDs to a violent and bloody…and all too familiar…horror movie cliché. It’s also just plain absurd that a doctor could look at this young woman degenerate so quickly and not even suggest she go to a hospital. Still, there is growth here in England’s work and he may really surprise us yet.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) maggots.