Monday, March 24, 2014

Contracted (2013)

Allow me to introduce my first gross-out flick for the year. It seems to be an unwritten rule that, each year, a film that threatens the gag-reflex be produced. The first one of this stock that I watched and reviewed here on Horror Dose is Paul Solet's Grace, a movie with a tone and aesthetics strikingly similar to that of Contracted. Though the latter didn't push as far over the edge as the grotesque poster art would have you believe, it still had enough impact to confirm my decision to prepare and eat a turkey sandwich as a terrible idea.

For whatever reason, I've been watching a string of movies lately that feature a strong female lead. Whether by subconscious choice or not, I always welcome a female lead in horror, be it a movie or a book. Though I cannot completely empathize with a woman, I can certainly sympathize. I am a mama's boy; I have a soft spot for the more elegant gender. So, by default, I already care about the character. Then I get a performance like Najarra Townsend's and I'm completely sold. Once again, this is a movie where nearly the entire weight of its execution rests on the heroine's shoulders. And it's a good thing Townsend finds that delicate balance of vulnerability and drive because nearly every single supporting character comes off forced and rigid, especially in the first scene of the movie proper (the party).

It should be fairly apparent within a short amount of time that this movie is a platform for special effects and makeup more so than plot, in the manner that Laid to Rest was made to showcase Robert Hall's/Almost Human's stunning visual effects. In the manner of Grace, we get clear, vivid nausea-inducing colour and lighting, giving the sense of the poor protagonist being under clinical observation throughout the film. In addition, the DP has a great sense of framing, knowing exactly what to obscure from view and what to show us to keep our imaginations squirming. We get the shot of bloody bathwater made famous by Psycho, but with copious clotting mixed in. And we get my all-time most unnerving gag that made The Fly and Cabin Fever 2 momentarily unbearable: THE INEVITABLE FINGERNAIL REMOVAL! Even as I write this, I'm writhing in my chair.

Like my recent experience with Here Comes the Devil, though in a much different manner, we get more messages about the consequences of sex, but Contracted goes further, giving us one scene in which Townsend tries to find comfort in an actual clinic while surrounded with contradictory message of love and sex. Then there ensues an ethically inappropriate examination between Sam and the male doctor (there should be a nurse in the room with him, and he should not be the one trying to take Sam's pants off). The helpless Sam is bombarded from the start of the film with figures in her life imposing on her their own idea of who Sam is. Little by little, a troubled past is hinted. But despite all of these smothering and uncaring figures in her life, I do commend the film for not turning the mother into the outrageous archetype from Carrie and only giving us the subtle Christian iconography to convey her opposing views. These tense relationships coupled with the more explicit physical ailments effect a nearly unbearable suffocating sensation on the viewer.

Aside from visuals effects and a very thin main plot, we do get a fantastic parallel metaphor to Sam's fragile sense of self: The flowers she's been nursing along to enter into a competition in which she has tied a hopeful future. During the opening credits, we see Sam meticulously spraying and inspecting these flowers, and we see an elaborate growing room (closet) in her mother's house. By the final act, however, when she is finally presented with her chance to compete, the highly-anticipated flowers have died and wilted, just as Sam herself has. The shot of these mirror images, though broken up by some humourous interaction with the check-in guy, is devastating. This tender, youthful, hopeful life has been neglected and desecrated by a cruel world.

In the end, the movie falls apart in the third act--or sets up for a sequel, depending on how you want to take it. I couldn't tell if some of the events were there to shock or as necessary to what's happening inside of Sam. It's hard to be sold on a movie very much when there's no clear motive behind the malevolence, but it still manages to be entertaining with its expert-level aesthetics, so I wouldn't go so far as to say it's skippable. Contracted is full of squeamish moments, but light on plot; and if you're looking for closure or motive, you will not find it here.

1 comment:

  1. After reading Chris's review here, I should have taken the sub-textual warnings a bit more seriously. I decided to settle in with this film to enjoy as a backdrop for my typical Saturday brunch fare - and it was a grave error in judgement. The scenes at the party were innocent enough and I excused the particularly forced and awkward dialogue between the characters, however what was to come prompted me to discard my plate halfway through my Eggs Benedict - more on that later. I quickly realized the forced exchanges were purposeful to illustrate Sam's very real displacement in the world which fuels this whole macabre spectacle. Sam works as a waiter (I decided sometime back to begin using this term for either gender, much like actor has been promoted to such status), which is often a profession suited to a more liberal lifestyle. Sleep in every day, work a few hours, pocket a bunch of cash, and then stay out all night partying and spending what you made that shift only to crawl into bed just before dawn. Sleep. Repeat. I know from first hand experience. Alongside this, she really makes mention of no future aspirations outside of this application for an orchid competition which seemed to hold the weight of a college acceptance letter. Factor in her struggle with her own sexuality and you have the recipe for a transient soul, vulnerable to the trappings of anyone with manipulative intent. A simple compliment thrown in her direction would certainly recruit her as a willing servant. All that said, she seeks out a tedious sticky fumbling in the back seat of a car as a remedy. It is in fact, quite the opposite.

    In the hours to follow her physical disintegration begins and fuels the same emotional spiral that she has been on the precipice of up until this point. For me, all bets were off when the maggot?? fell from it's lair. Umm, check please.

    I won't continue to give a synopsis of the scenes to follow. Chris has well enough outlined the high (low) points. I will say that the visual effects very much elicit the type of disgust that was clearly intended; I wouldn't classify myself as particular put off by such, but I was forced to look away several times during the viewing.

    The climax of the film proved to be duly unrewarding if not confusing. It seemed that the emotional stress coupled with Sam's living decomposition brought the worst out in her. She became a raging beast intent on destroying herself and others around her regardless of their intentions. It strangely echoed the themes found in the myriad of films of late dedicated to the zombie sub-genre - one that I still cannot fully embrace. That is for a different discussion, but suffice it to say that while Contracted certainly kept my attention with all its shocking visuals, I felt underwhelmed and overly sickened. Horror film fans, I won't be having Eggs Benedict this Saturday.