★★ / ★★★★
“Contracted,” written and directed by Eric England, is an effective body horror film for about half of its running time. The movie is strongest when it is patient and the camera simply rests on the protagonist’s increasingly diseased body. However, the second half, particularly the third act, is so atrocious, plagued by many unbelievable reactions from the lead character’s friends and loved ones, that we end up laughing at the material rather than continuing to be horrified and fascinated by it.
Samantha (Najarra Townsend) attends a friend’s party with the hope of meeting up with her girlfriend (Katie Stegeman). While she waits, the hostess (Alice Macdonald) insists that Sam takes a shot—or five—so she can let loose and have fun, perhaps even forget about her girlfriend problems for one night. However, when her friends aren’t looking, Sam is approached by a man named BJ (Simon Barrett), hands her a red cup and insists that it is her drink. Unbeknownst to the inebriated woman, the drink contains a date rape drug and in just a few minutes the two will have unprotected sex in his car. BJ, in the first scene, was shown having sex with a corpse with a biohazard tag around its toes.
The increasingly bizarre symptoms, despite the gross-out factor, are highly watchable. Title cards denoting the number of days since Sam’s sexual assault have an eeriness to them, giving the impression that it is some sort of countdown to something big. The first symptom is as simple as the heroine feeling cold all the time, but later stages involve rashes, scabs, uncontrolled bleeding.
Despite the fact that Sam is not a well-established character prior to her bizarre affliction, it is near impossible not to sympathize with her. The camera has a habit of staying back and merely observing while the score is kept at a bare minimum. As a result, we grow sensitive to her cries, disbelief, and even disgust of herself. Credit to the makeup artists and special effects team for making the character look horrifying and disfigured without going overboard. If only the writing were as sharp.
Particularly troublesome is the manner in which the people around Sam react to her condition. The script forces supporting characters to ignore or downplay the obvious signs that something is seriously wrong with the protagonist. Ask yourself: If you see a person, especially someone you care about, whose face is pretty much falling off, wouldn’t you insist that he or she go to the emergency room as soon as possible, if not actually offer to drive that person to the hospital? Here, time and again we hear comments like, “You don’t look very good” or “Are you feeling okay?” to the point of overwhelming frustration.
The film is completely derailed during the final fifteen minutes. One gets the impression that the writer-director does not know how to end his project and so he relies on violence to satisfy the viewers. A more appropriate ending is a chillier tone, a scientific explanation (or something that sounds remotely scientific) followed by more involving questions that would warrant a sequel.