Posted by Holly
Director: Eric England
Many zombie stories begin with a similar premise: our protagonist somehow finds him or herself either in the middle of a zombie-ravaged town, or one that has already been destroyed by them. We’re dropped off in the middle of the commotion, with little understanding of how it progressed into the full-on nightmare we’re seeing in front of us. It’s more exciting this way, certainly, the immediate peril our main character is in often fuels the momentum for the rest of the film.
Contracted takes a very different approach to a zombie film. One that not only examines the beginning of the infection, but follows one of the characters that will ultimately spread it as she succumbs to its effects. It’s a unique and interesting look at the genre, but one that doesn’t always hit the mark exactly the way it could.
Our main character, Samantha, goes out to a party one night, her mind rife with personal issues that are weighing on her. After the party, however, her problems only get worse as she begins to find herself becoming increasingly sick – with an illness she can’t quite identify. As the symptoms begin to escalate out of her control, she struggles to piece together what is happening, and the events that brought her there to begin with.
This is a story about rape. Sure, it’s dressed up in a zombie plot, but that’s really only the surface of what’s being given; the fact that Samantha is going to succumb to her illness and become a zombie is practically a foregone conclusion from the moment you begin watching the film. Where this movie really gets interesting, for better or for worse, is the way the descent into being a zombie is used as an extended metaphor for dealing with sexual assault. Samantha is seen being given a drink by a stranger, already significantly intoxicated at this point. This cuts to a scene where she and the stranger are having sex, and she continuously says that they shouldn’t do this – before repeatedly telling him to stop explicitly. This is not an encounter which can really be interpreted as a regretful one-night stand; she is shown to be very drunk, it is heavily implied that she was drugged as well, and she tells the stranger to stop.
The timeline in the film is split into days, and you watch the progression of the illness as time moves forward. At first, her symptoms, while uncomfortable for her, seem innocuous enough. They are things she feels she can explain by other means, and that there is nothing particularly troubling about them. The longer she goes, however, the more distressing they become. She becomes secretive, detached from reality, and fearful of others learning just how bad her condition is becoming, but eventually does seek help from a doctor. The doctor does not see her problem as urgent, and she is ultimately sent away with few answers. It’s easy to see how her physical deterioration can be linked to the emotional and psychological deterioration that can be caused by sexual trauma – complete with the dismissal of her concerns by people one might assume are there to help them.
While I do think there’s an interesting layer in viewing the movie this way, I struggle with the way this presents that struggle, especially with a topic like rape. I can respect an attempt to talk about rape in a visceral way, but that idea seems to be muddied by too many other half-finished thoughts. Samantha’s fear and anguish is depicted well enough, and how her emotional trauma destroys her life, but her overall character is not well established to allow a strong connection with her. Throughout the film I kept finding myself being bothered by basic pieces of information that felt like they were missing from the picture – it’s difficult to discern her age, why she’s living at home, and then of course the drama of the relationship with her ex-girlfriend is alluded to but never fully revealed, and we find out she apparently struggled with drugs at some point. There’s so much going on, and so little that is clearly answered, that these questions start to distract from what should be the “meat” of the film – the terrifying deterioration of its central character.
Her relationship with her girlfriend is a missed opportunity; you are given a character who is explicitly involved in a same-sex relationship in the story, but this is really not explored very far past that. By the time the film starts, you are left in the middle of a situation in which the relationship between Samantha and Nikki is already falling apart. Samantha’s mother seems to be less than fully accepting of this relationship, but even that idea isn’t fully explored. Samantha’s confrontation with her friend Alice at the end deals with a possible attraction between them, but seems set up to titillate and shock, rather than provide real dramatic tension. In essence, Samantha’s identity as a lesbian felt like little more than a plot device.
None of the characters are particularly likable, which is another flaw of this film. As a viewer, you can certainly empathize with what the main character is experiencing, but you don’t feel like you know her well enough to decide if you like her or not. Her friends are at their best, obnoxious, and at their worst, outright creepy. This includes a lecherous drug dealer, and a typical Nice Guy who can’t seem to take no for an answer, even when faced with the fact that Samantha only wants to date women. Her mother is aggressively controlling, with touches of homophobia, which makes Samantha’s relationship with her even more confusing. It’s difficult to discern if there’s a side you should “root” for, or a character you even should want to survive to the end of the film.
Violence wise, this is one of the most visceral films I’ve watched in quite some time. It hit on almost every one of my major gore squicks – fingers, teeth, eyes, genitals, just about everything that might make you cringe. If you’re a gorehound, this is great news. If you’re more like me, and need your gore to be a little more sparse, you might be covering your face a bit more. The gore was well executed (from my standpoint, as a non-gore fan), and justified by the plot, but gets a bit overwhelming towards the end of the film.
As a whole, I’d say this is an interesting film that’s worth one watch to give you something to think about. It’s a fresh exercise on the zombie phenomenon, by not being a story of survival on the part of a central character, but rather a story of succumbing to the inevitable. There is no point in time in which you truly believe that your main characters stands a chance of surviving, which ultimately makes for rather somber fare.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. There are some really interesting things going on in this film, it has some clumsy delivery of its ideas that really keeps it from being as solid as it could be. It Follows deals with a similar topic of sexual trauma, in which I felt was a more respectful and powerful way.
Scariness level: There are quite a few trigger buttons being pushed in this film, both in emotional and physical areas. This is pretty scary if you’re put off by gore, or heavily triggered by sexual exploitation.
Violence level: 11/10. Seriously. If you’re a gore fan, there’s not much to complain about her – I reached levels of nausea watching this that I hadn’t seen since I watched Cabin Fever back in the day.
Bechdel test: Yes. Samantha talks to her mother, a close female friend, and her ex-girlfriend about various topics, some of which don’t include men.
Mako Mori test: Also a yes, in a way. Samantha’s story revolves around what happened to her, but the story does not hinge on the presence of its male characters.