Review

Review

FEARNET Movie Review: 'Contracted'

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Every time another indie horror film about women hits the scene, I open my reviews with comments on movies like May, Grace, Teeth, Inside, and The Woman: smart, dark, insightful films -- all written and directed by men -- that aim to shed some light on that most fascinating of all animals: the human female. One certainly wishes we had more films like this that come from female filmmakers (like this year's rather impressive American Mary), but at least there are some men out there who clearly take female characters very seriously.

 
You can add the new indie horror film Contracted to that list. Written and directed by Eric England (Madison County), Contracted is little more than a character study of a woman who is slowly (and literally) falling apart -- but is too busy, too naive, and too damn scared to face her problems and get her life back on track. But that makes Contracted sound like a dry or preachy affair, which it is not. How well the film works for you depends on how well you can relate -- or at least empathize -- with our main character, a beautiful young lesbian named Samantha who makes some seriously bad mistakes during a party -- and lives to regret each and every one.
 
Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is not an easy young woman to like, but given how many issues she has to deal with at once (overbearing mother, clingy best friend, disinterested girlfriend, lame job, horny stalkers, etc.) she quickly becomes a character worth pulling for. Even at her nastiest moments (and there are several), Samantha feels like an amalgam of every stress and worry than an early twenty-something has to contend with. And then she enjoys some drugs and some sex with a mysterious man, and all of those real-world problems take a back seat to something, well, let's just say "biologically insidious."
 
Is Samantha turning into a vampire? A zombie? Is she suffering from a normal albeit horrific disease, or is she literally dying from the inside out? England, seemingly well aware that this is not exactly a "plot-heavy" horror story, plays his cards close to the vest, which allows a slightly wild premise to take root in a completely believable reality. It certainly doesn't hurt that Ms. Townsend provides a consistently excellent performance throughout, and those who crave some of horror cinema's more "simple" pleasures will certainly appreciate the nasty turns the plot takes during Act III.
 
Most interestingly of all, while Contracted is definitely "about" a woman, and will certainly speak to a lot of female viewers, it's also about how frenzied, harried, complicated, and miserable your early adulthood can be. Sure, it's also a cautionary tale on how one should, well, protect one's privates at all times, but for a movie that's remarkably light on "plot," Contracted offers quite an impressive array of food for thought. Yes, it's icky and violent and shocking, but Contracted is also smart, insightful, and sort of tragic. Townsend's performance pretty much steals the whole show, but this still stands as one of the most intriguing indie horror films I've seen this year.
 
And frankly it's the sort of low-budget indie that low-budget filmmakers should watch while taking notes. Score, cinematography, make-up effects, editing, production design, and various important intangibles. It's just an impressive little horror movie on the whole.
 
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