This sort of film has been done before. None more exacting than David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. But Eric England’s film on the degradation of a young woman following a night of unprotected sex registers as a remix on Cronenberg’s operatic tale of woe – a cynical outlook on millennial living and sexual identity. The contemporary trappings of Contracted, with illuminating iPhones populating the screen regularly, does one thing; it illustrates the loneliness bubbling at the main character’s core, and the price one pays to give into urges propagated by that loneliness.
A fearless performance by Najarra Townsend as Samantha initially sees her at a party, alone. Samantha’s displacement from the others at the party is in large part because she’s waiting on a call back from her girlfriend and as the film lets you know early on: it’s her first time dating a girl. It’s difficult not to see the parallels with the recent Blue is the Warmest Color, but certain passages of Contracted certainly play to the tune of Abdellatif Kechiche’s film. Blue’s sense of loneliness even when in relationship is a palpable aspect to Contracted, with the central lesbian relationship only reiterating the comparison. Seeking refuge in alcohol, Samantha finds herself in the backseat of another man’s car. She awakens the next morning at home with symptoms that she chalks up to a hangover. But as the picture progresses, the sense that it’s all going to get a lot worse before it gets any better emerges.
Thematically, Contracted is really a reshuffling of gender politics propelled by a horror aesthetic. The key to the picture’s success is how England addresses Samantha’s motivating behavior. Townsend realizes the character as someone disconnected from the larger population and one who can be taken advantage of due to her unresolved bouts of loneliness. From her mother’s domineering and displaced affection to being objectified by men, Samantha is a character who simply can’t find solace in any relationship because it’s not there for her. Some may see England’s treatment of Samantha as an example of slut-shaming with the picture’s bodily degradation as penance. This would disregard the overarching sense of loneliness that is injected to the initial fifteen minutes of the picture, which has a palpability that really deserves citing. The remainder of the picture is fairly text book and not especially surprising, though England’s confidently moves the picture with formal precision. It’s Townsend, from her displaced solitude in the opening frame to her frightening visage in the final frame, who leaves you with the most striking and defined impression.