I havent seen any of Eric Englands other films but given that they seem to attract reviews about being cheap and derivative, one did not expect much from Contracted. That said, I was surprised by the film. England shows some sophistication in the way he allows much of the initial set-up to take place in terms of subtlety and nuance carried by his actors. Englands discovery in Contracted is Najarra Townsend, an actress who has been bubbling away without notice in minor parts since the mid-2000s. With heart-shaped face and anime-sized eyes, Townsend has a captivating beauty. The horror of the film is the simple effect of seeing her beauty being corrupted and physically ruined.
The film becomes progressively more horrible as we watch Najarra Townsends decay taking place at first rashes on the skin, then thickets of hair falling out from the back of her head, clumps of blood in her period, her nails falling out, her teeth coming out and later shown as rotted. In particular, there is something unnerving to seeing Townsend with one eye turned scarlet red (followed by the other and then both later turned pale yellow). What exactly is happening and who the man who infected her is is kept vague and unspecified in the background of the film (we never even see his face). The background of the film is constantly filled with imagery that suggests a link to sexually transmitted disease banners for the AIDS Walk on a bus stop, STD warnings and big jars of condoms in the doctors surgery. What we have feels like an hysterical 1950s anti-VD film crossbred with something like David Cronenbergs Rabid (1977) or perhaps even more so The Fly (1986) and its unnerving focus on the horrors of physical decay and mutation.
All of this works rather well. There is undeniable shock to watching Najarra Townsends decay. On the other hand, the weakness of Contracted is that it seems to lack a third act a sense of where to take the film beyond showing us the physical degeneration of its leading lady. To this extent, Eric England starts throwing in a series of set-pieces that has Najarra killing various other supporting characters but these seem unmotivated, more there as though there was the sense that the film had to keep escalating its horror scenes. This becomes particularly evident towards the end where the film wraps the show up simply by having SWAT teams turn up and shoot Najarra as she goes feral and attacks her mother. You might want to contrast Contracted with the far more effective and lower-budgeted Canadian Thanatomorphose (2012), a very similar film that charted the progress of its heroines decay. Thanatomorphose pushed things much further and went all the way. Other characters featured peripherally and were attacked but seemed less important; rather the focus of the story stayed within the heroines apartment and went from initial outbreak all the way to her reduction to a skeletal pile of goo. Another film of contrast might be the similar subsequent Starry Eyes (2014).
Contracted: Phase II (2015) was a sequel.