[well, shit – clearly, I forgot to post this last night, but the entire thing was saved in a draft and I *did* watch this Thursday night – I promise!]
I’m sick with the beginnings of a bad cold, so what better occasion to watch a body horror movie? And by sick, I mean not sick, because that denotes weakness, and I genuinely convinced my coworkers that it was just my autumn rain allergy, and I don’t want them to be right, because stubbornness. As far as they’re concerned, I’m skiving with hookers and blow.
But if it somehow turns out to be a cold or a chest infection under all these layers of Lemsip and lozenges and OJ and water and soup, at least it’s nowhere near as bad as the disease documented in today’s pick, Contracted (2013).
Former junkie Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is mourning the complicated sort-of-loss of her ex, Nikki (at the movie’s opening party, she’s referred to as just ‘Nick’, as if the revelation that she’s a woman is a funny ‘gotcha’ to the audience). She’s quietly ogled by two nerds (including Community‘s Fat Neil as the world’s laziest drug dealer), before being date-raped by a complete stranger called BJ.
Vital side note: it’s explicitly mentioned later on that Fat Neil sold BJ some rophymol; we totally see him switch out her drink, and there are feeble cries of ‘no, stop’ in the car. Yet the film’s director, Eric England, described said scene as a ‘one-night stand’ instead of a rape. Sure, a lesbian would totally have a one-night stand with a guy! And if you think about it, all rapes are one-night stands.
Anyway, after the rape, Samantha says nothing, not even to her domineering, overly-Christian mother, who uses her watchful bug-eyes to notice every little symptom her formerly wayward daughter is showing. This includes, but is not limited to, vaginal bleeding, headaches, cramps, big fat veins in her face and neck, red, bleeding eyes, just the lot.
And so begins the body horror. Only, unlike with many other horrors, our heroine doesn’t have a trio or quartet of plucky childhood friends who would band together and figure out what’s wrong with her. All she has is an ex who really is an ex, a best friend who just drinks without being a friend, a boss who seems comfortable flouting food hygiene laws, an ineffectual stalker and the world’s shittiest doctor (‘might be an STD’). She probably has free-person crappy healthcare.
In other words, she’s all alone, trying to figure out what’s happening to her, all the while trying to cover up the grosser symptoms (like somehow literally blood-wetting the bed, struggling to clean up the bloody mess in her work bathroom – just trying to hide everything. It all adds a few layers of awkward, embarrassing lying-by-omission moments of discomfort, all of which add to the terrifying uneasiness of her transformation on top of the scares.
There’s an utterly horrifying sequence in which Samantha, on the advice of Shitty Doctor, applies lotion to relieve the bleeding crotch rash, then reexamines her bleeding eye, then brushes her teeth only to find it dislodges one of her them and she spits it out with blood, and the whole thing is so frightening that she panic-vomits – and it’s also blood.
The movie is at its best when it’s just following Samantha – sadly, every other character is paper-thin. Her ex, Nikki (Katie Stegeman) is the worst offender, with zero redeeming character traits to indicate why Samantha is still so in love with her. As if desperate to make us hate the character even more, Stegeman offers up the most abominable English accent I’ve ever heard on screen – some Frankenaccent concocted of Cockney, Mancunian, Yorkshire, Home Counties and Aussie. It’s distractingly fucking bad.
That’s not to say that Lane’s character looks perfect on paper. Her fluid sexuality is exploited as a plot device, and the plot she plays with is incredibly problematic (“self-identified lesbian ‘enjoys’ sex with man, who gave her an horrific, mysterious STD”). Credit should go to Townsend’s hyper-expressive eyes, which are played to full effect on the poster – which, by the way, doesn’t sugarcoat the body horror aspect by caking her in makeup to make her look like the “hot chick with death face”.
But stick with it. It all adds up to a series of increasingly bleak and jaw-dropping shockers, culminating in an bit of a kicker of an ending that encourages you go to back and watch the movie again.