torsdag 8 januari 2015

Contracted (2013) and Body Horror

Body horror is a sub-genre of horror fiction which uses our fear of our bodies changing or otherwise becoming alienated from us. Elements of body horror are often used in other types of horror films; in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) the titular monster lays its eggs inside its victims and the contemporary "torture porn" sub-genre, with films like Saw (James Wan, 2004) and Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005) and their sequels, wants the audience to fear what someone might do to their bodies. The films mentioned all have an element of someone or something external attacking the body, but today's review will focus on a film where the attack is coming from within. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986) and Cabin Fever (Eli Roth, 2002) are other films that use the same approach.

Contracted (Eric England, 2013) is about Samantha (Najarra Townsend), a young lesbian, who gets raped at a party and contracts a strange STD, which causes her body to, for lack of a better word, decompose. The transformation is slow and Samantha tries her best to hide the symptoms from her mother, friends, co-workers and her ex-girlfriend, with whom she tries to get back together.

Rape is a common theme in body horror, probably because it represents both violation and loss of control. In Alien, victims are inseminated through an act which could be described as a literal face rape. Samantha's rape in the beginning of Contracted is handled in an interesting way. While the audience sees how the rapist slips Rohypnol into her drink and how she begs him to stop during the act, Samantha seems unsure herself. She is also afraid to tell people, especially her ex-girlfriend who may view it as a drunken one night stand with a man, undermining her sexual identity. You could say that the film gives a realistic depiction of rape, showing both the act and the subsequent shame and fear of not being believed.
Samantha's character is the only remotely likable one in the film. Every other character either judges her harshly, wants to sleep with her or both. This is partially justified as the film focuses on Samantha's point-of-view and her being a rape survivor, this mirrors both her loss of faith in other people and other people's reactions towards her. However, her friends aren't particularly likable characters even before her rape. Additionally, as a result of her disease, Samantha becomes increasingly unlikable as the film progresses. She is still sympathetic, we truly feel sorry for her, but her actions become harder for us to understand and rationalize.

The film has been criticized as "punishing a lesbian for being raped", which I guess is arguably true. I would however rather interpret Contracted as telling the story of the tragic aftermath of a rape. Being raped and contracting a disease not only destroys Samatha's body, but also her relationships.

The film deserves praise for the way it handles a complex and sensitive subject and for Samantha's character development. It also did a great job with the practical special effects, showing Samantha's gruesome physical transformation. Other than that, Contracted is just okay. The ending is a bit predictable and doesn't really mix well with the rest of the film. Still, I think the film is definitely worth watching. It is far from perfect, but unlike most horror films featuring a literal rape it isn't a revenge story, which is kind of refreshing.

As a last note, I would like to comment on how stupid the title is. Why does almost every horror film nowadays have to have these vague one-word titles? Contracted might as well be the story of a contract killer!

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