Eric England, who is best known for Madison County (2011), has created in Contracted a great commentary on the fears of sexually transmitted diseases.
The film opens with an unknown man, who we learn from the credits is Simon Barrett (writer of You’re Next, A Horrible Way To Die, Autoerotic, and segments of ABC’s Of Death, V/H/S and V/H/S 2) committing an act of necrophilia in a morgue. From here we go straight to our star, the complicated Samantha played perfectly by Najarra Townsend. We learn quickly that Sam and her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman) are experiencing turbulence in their relationship. Sam’s friend Alice (Alice MacDonald) is throwing a bash and wants her to cut loose, but as the party progresses and the alcohol kicks in Sam falls prey to the unknown man who provides her next drink. The next thing Sam knows she is waking up with what she believes is the worst hangover of her life, but soon it becomes clear that it is something far worse.
Eric England achieves his grotesque vision without the use of CGI, and as a result Contracted will live on while so many other low budget horror films will fall to the wayside. Abject horror and body horror seem to always find their target audiences. These films cater to our fears of something ravaging us from within. From Invasion Of The Body Snatchers onward, the terror of transformation or mutation has captivated viewers.
The king of body horror is, of course, David Cronenberg, and many will liken Contracted with him and more specifically The Fly – which shows the slow and disgusting mutation of Jeff Goldblum into Brundlefly. England uses the disintegration of The Fly while also the sexuality found in Cronenberg’s Shivers and Rabid. Both of Cronenberg’s earlier films feature a parasite created by science that is passed via a semi-sexual act. In Shivers once someone is infected with the phallic parasite they become a sexual zombie. In Rabid there is a carrier who uses her phallic parasite to draw blood and thus infect her victims with a variant of a fast acting form of rabies. By combining these elements, Contracted could be considered as a mere tribute film paying homage to Cronenberg, but there is a lot more to England’s film.
Samantha is a product of a narcissistic generation, and while she does seek medical attention, she does not want help from anyone else. She cannot even fully admit the cause of her illness, so she chooses to bear it alone. In doing so, her naivete offers moments of humor in the face of her transformation.
Julia Kristeva (philosopher, critic, psychoanalyst, feminist, novelist) writes at length about the abject in her article “Powers of Horror.” The abject in terms of horror relates to the fear of what is physically inside us – i.e. blood, bone, guts, excrement – coming out and how it forces us to contemplate our own mortality.
“A wound with blood and puss, or the sickly acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death… These bodily fluids, this defilement, this sh*t are what life withstands hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being.” (Powers of Horror, 3)
Kristeva speaks of death infecting life. When we are witness to the physiology of our own fragile bodies, we experience both fear and joy. We are drawn to the abject as a way of cathartically coping with our own inevitable decay.
By infusing a degree of melodrama into the narrative, a layer of comedy also emerges. England allows us to experience the abject while at the same time he relieves us from the guilt of taking pleasure in it. This is the brilliance of Contracted.