rating: 2The cautionary tale has been a horror movie tradition ever since the days of slasher flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th, where nubile young teens would most often find themselves skewered for their hedonistic behaviour. Eric England's Contracted may not be a slasher film, but it certainly makes a concerted effort to condemn wanton sexual activity, with protagonist Samantha (Najarra Townsend) getting roofied and effective date-raped by a stranger at a party, only to discover that the man is wanted by the police. For what? The answer soon enough becomes clear when a pervasive STD begins ravaging her body, as she tries to maintain a grip on her sanity. Though Contracted doesn't take particularly long to become vile and queasy - benefiting from some extremely good make up effects - England's film lands a fair distance from the Cronenbergian blend of horror it so clearly dreams to smack of. This achievement might have been in sight were Samantha not so bewilderingly idiotic, failing to take the obvious step to go to the hospital, insisting that she's fine and even going to work (in one particularly outrageous sequence). She might also lay claim to one of the most heinously unsympathetic parents in the history of cinema, horror or otherwise, and despite the illegal frisson she unconsciously engages in at the start of the film, refuses to go to the police. And then there's the dispiriting lesbian relationship drama thrown on top of the heap with little care or consideration. While it presents a solid foundation on which to build a film, the overly self-serious treatment renders Contracted unintentionally hilarious. It's hideously grotesque, nicely shot and well acted, though ultimately disappointing due to an inane script which fashions a thoroughly unlikable, idiotic protagonist who invites derision more than sympathy.
rating: 3If the journey proves to be much more interesting than the destination, this eerie, alluring horror thriller (alternately called Dark Tourist) still offers plenty to recommend, as security guard Jim (Michael Cudlitz) takes his annual vacation to the important landmarks in a serial killer's life. This year, it's serial arsonist Carl Marznap, so Jim finds himself trawling across the sleepy side of California, camped out in a sleazy motel with only the hooker next door and a kindly waitress, Betsy (screen legend Melanie Griffith) for company. There's a semi-comic engagement with Jim's pastime - referred to as "dark tourism" - and when others are quick to question his activities, he makes light of humanity's general fascination with morbidity, neither conceding its healthiness nor its macabre nature. Director Suri Krishnamma does a fine job building the central mystery - is Jim going to emulate the very killer he is studying? - and though clunkily-written voiceover narration ladles out the themes without much fuss, the strong turns from both Griffith and especially Cudlitz keep the wheels turning. Things go needlessly surreal in the second act, as hallucinations of Marznap show themselves to Jim, before things get truly weird in act three, as Jim is disappointingly dissected by basic pop-psychology, as well as a by-the-book explosion of violence at the finale. The grisly final moments, however, will longer long in the mind after the credits roll. It disappointingly resorts to a reductive dissection of its protagonist in the third reel, but The Grief Tourist benefits from Michael Cudlitz's suitably creepy performance, and is an atmospheric, suspenseful ride.