★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A brutal and difficult to watch examination of a young woman laid low by a necrotic wasting venereal disease. Emotionally rough and viscerally horrifying, this is not one for the weak of heart or stomach.
Directed by Eric England
I first brought this film up when we had our Podcast Episode 93 Pandemic Horror where I expressed my admiration and disgust at having watched Contracted, where the most insidious venereal disease ever put to screen destroys the life of a troubled young woman, Samantha (Najarra Townsend). I can only imagine watching this from a woman’s point of view. It is the absolute worst-case scenario cautionary tale of the dangers of unprotected sex, heightened now that we are in a COVID 19 environment, this movie hits on some pretty raw nerves… many of those in your uneasy stomach.
When this movie was released, science had found a way to mitigate the ravages of AIDS, and this certainly was released in the era before COVID 19, but the whole movie services up a prophetic and cautionary tale about losing your inhibitions and common sense and coming down with something truly awful that you could have avoided. This movie would be a fine pairing with It Follows if parents wanted to scare their teenage daughters from having one night stands.
Samantha doesn’t know it yet, but she is at the height of young adulthood. Everybody in her social circle desires her. She’s got a promising potential career as a botanist, raising prize orchids. She is the center of attention, and yet, she feels frustrated. She is going through a bi-curious phase in her life, and her girlfriend, the dashing Nikki (Katie Stegeman) does not show up to a party that they were going to attend, and now Samantha is having to fend off the unwanted attention of her long-suffering friendzone would-be paramour Riley (Matt Mercer) and the party hostess Alice (Alice MacDonald) who urges Samantha to get absolutely fall-down drunk. ‘Cause, you know, good times, right?
In her frustration about Nikki not showing up, Samantha follows Alice’s advice and gets stumble-bumble drunk. She compounds her problems by hitting on a stranger at the party and considers a one-night-stand with the man as a bit of romantic revenge. And that leads to what has to be considered a date rape, or at best a very poorly thought out one-night stand in the back of the stranger’s car. She realizes that sexual relations were NOT what she wanted. It is too late, however, and he is already upon her, her protests unheard or ignored, and then she blacks out.
When she comes to in the morning, she doesn’t recall much of what happened at the party. She meanders home and has a confrontation with her concerned mother, and then shifts gears to trying to find out why her girlfriend ditched her (Nikki seems to be avoiding her), all the while seeming to suffer from the mother of all hangovers. Soon, though, it becomes clear that she is truly ill. She is vomiting blood, having an abnormally heavy and uncontrollable menses flow, and also has some sort of pink eye infection, and a cold sore on her mouth.
A trip to the doctor’s office doesn’t bring up anything conclusive, other than she might have a nasty infection and… oh, by the way, it looks like it may have been contracted from sexual contact, and that she should find the man who she does not remember, because he may have this condition too. She is mortified by her behavior because she does not consider herself straight anymore, but booze has a funny way of flipping your behavioral switches.
This is all in the first act.
In the following acts, Samantha begins to rapidly deteriorate. She is decaying by the minute, and she desperately tries to keep a normal routine going. She goes to work, as she is desperate to get money, even though she is shedding hair, fingernails, and teeth. It does not go well. And all of her relationships are deteriorating at the same time. She gets some brutal truths about her relationship with Nikki and as her body and life begin to crumble, she also gets aggressive and violent with everyone she comes into contact with.
Her assailant cannot be found or identified. Is he suffering the same symptoms? Or was he some sort of a plague demon? Samantha struggles for answers, but her brain and reasoning are failing her, and a spiral into her own personal hell seems inevitable.
Watching Contracted is the equivalent of watching a train wreck of a soul in slow motion. Stuff oozes and things crawl out of places where things are not supposed to ooze or crawl. She tries to mask her conditions but there is only so much that makeup and sunglasses can cover up for, and there is no good healing for the destruction that her behavior has led her to. This movie is grim with a side helping of bleak sauce.
Contracted is Not Rated, and this movie had it tried for an MPAA rating may have gotten an NC-17. It is a serious movie, with almost no levity to it at all. Townsend carries the movie, and you can see her go through all the phases of grief, loss, and anger. She is a complex protagonist, and you feel for her even as she makes some disturbing decisions. Probably the strongest body-horror equivalent I would draw is to the Fly, which is fairly high praise.
You can rent Contracted streaming on Amazon.