Contracted is a low budget indie film from 2013 that finally, gloriously, made its way into my Netflix queue. The movie initially attracted my attention because the very brief synopsis combined with the poster suggested there would be STDs that resulted in people looking like this:
Contracted was the first film by Eric England that I have seen, but I don’t want it to be the last. Despite the 50% rating the movie received on Rotten Tomatoes and negative reviews on other rating platforms, I really enjoyed the film and would happily watch it again. I think the movie set out to put a new spin on the zombie infection genre. We’re accustomed to seeing people gnawing on faces and biting jugulars – but this is a completely different kind of zombie flick. The transformation doesn’t occur in a matter of hours, it takes days. Despite the comparatively slow progression of Samantha’s (Najarra Townsend) infection, the film has clearly set out to disgust and shock the audience. There’s a fair amount of blood in this movie so lovers of gore won’t be disappointed. (Though they may get more than they bargained for in the “gross out” department.) Najarra’s performance was excellent and felt surprisingly real in contrast to the execution of some of the other actors. Other reviewers have argued that the film is dull, but I would counter it is realistic. Without realizing you were infected with a zombie virus in the beginning stages of a widespread infestation, who would do anything but go on about their daily life? With no other zombies to fight, why shouldn’t our protagonist go to work and have coffee dates with her ex-girlfriend?
The movie begins with a man handling a test tube and violating a corpse and then moves suddenly to Samantha in her car about to enter a party. We see her leaving a voicemail, urging Nikki (Katie Stegeman) to come out to the party after she gets off work. The camera cuts to the party where a reluctant Sam wards off advances of men before she begrudgingly accepts drinks she is offered by her friend Alice (Alice Macdonald). Once she is inebriated, we see Sam leaving another voicemail on Nikki’s phone. She ends with a feeble “I love you” before we cut to another scene where a very drunk Samantha unknowingly accepts a drink from a blurry stranger. We’re then heaved to the man’s car and witness Samantha’s unfortunate rape and infection.
The rest of the movie progresses in this abrupt fashion. Scenes cut into one another sharply and locations change with little warning. Though this is likely the product of filming a movie with limited time and a minimal budget, it works very well for the story. Samantha’s transition from girl with a head cold and a rash to something more is not a smooth one. I think the slight disorientation which comes from relocating between places as well as from one scene to the next mirrors the confusion experienced by Sam as she visits a doctor who doesn’t understand her condition and fends off others as they attempt to help her. While all of the scenes have excellent lighting, are very clean, and seem incredibly normal, we still get to feel a tinge of Sam’s uncertainty through the performance and her appearance.
The make-up FX were subtle enough to be creepy without shouting “This is a zombie flick!” from the highest rooftops, which I thought made them more effective. Look at that eye! Although no one was going to win an Oscar for this film, I thought each of the actors were believable in their parts. There was Nikki, the disinterested ex who had clearly moved on. Riley (Matt Mercer), the poor sap who had a crush on Sam from the beginning. Alice, the friend who had good intentions. Sam’s Mom (Caroline Williams), who wanted nothing more than to get along with and help her daughter. The characters weren’t the typical zombie movie cast. They didn’t hide out in a warehouse, stockpile weapons, or ration food. They were average people living their lives – and I loved that as an alternate angle. We don’t get to see the very beginning of a zombie outbreak often, and this representation felt authentic.
As I said before, this was my first Eric England film, but it certainly will not be the last. This movie accomplished what it set out to do. I liked that it deviated from the mold of the arguably overplayed zombie outbreak genre.