This review contains spoilers for the original Contracted.
Regular visitors to this site know that I'm a big fan of Eric England's 2013 horror film Contracted, which follows the deterioration of a young woman (Najarra Townsend) as she slowly rots away after a random sexual encounter. It's a cool little movie with a lot on its mind, part Cronenbergian body horror, part pitch black comedy, part metaphor not only for sexually transmitted diseases but also for a young woman in crisis who cannot get the help she needs because those around her refuse to see the problem for what it is. While it eventually reveals itself to be an origin story for a zombie movie, that ends up just being a neat little twist in what has already proven itself a really small, interesting horror movie with a bunch of ideas in it about the current generation of people in their early 20s.
The original film was a big enough hit that IFC Midnight wanted a sequel, only England hasn't returned to write or direct. It's a touchy situation, about which England has been pretty vocal. I have consciously tried to ignore the behind-the-scenes politics and take the sequel on its own terms. Maybe that's not possible for me. I'm a fan of Eric England, and if that means I haven't given Contracted II a fair shake, it's not for lack of trying. At the very least, I'm trying to be upfront about any possible biases even if I really tried not to let them dictate my reactions.
From there we follow Riley (returning cast member Matt Mercer), who had brief, icky sex with Sam near the end of the first movie and is now noticing...changes in his body. As he begins to undergo the same transformation that once affected Samantha, the "condition" (whatever you want to call it) rapidly spreads to everyone around him. At the same time, the cops hunt for the man who started it all (once a cameo by Simon Barrett, not played by Morgan Peter Brown) as he continues to carry out a plan to wipe out humanity with the weaponized virus for which Sam was Patient Zero.
Contracted: Phase II is a very different movie from the original Contracted. It's got a much faster pace, it's a lot gorier, a lot sillier and a lot more deliberately outrageous. This is all by design; director Josh Forbes set out to make something with a totally different energy. In this, he is successful. I just don't think it works.
And don't get me started on the post-credits tag (there are two of them), which brings back another character from the first movie to terrible effect. Also, Contracted II was one of three indie horror films I saw in the same weekend with a post-credits tag. Fuck you, Marvel.
A lot of the most effective stuff in the movie just repeats beats from the original Contracted. When Riley stops to pee at one point, we can just count down the moments until it turns to blood. And it's gross. And it was already done. His gradual decay follows the very same trajectory as Sam's from the first movie; the major difference this time around is that Riley has an awareness of what is happening, which gives him an agency that Samantha did not possess. That makes Contracted II faster paced and more "exciting" -- Riley must race around town to try and stop bad things from happening -- but not nearly as compelling.
This isn't the first horror sequel to take the series in a totally different direction tonally. Think of Evil Dead 2 or Hellraiser II or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. While Contracted II isn't as good as any of those movies -- not by a long shot -- it shares the same kind of willingness to go bigger and, as in several of those cases, more comedic than its predecessor. The difference is that those movies succeed on their terms and this one does not, even if its made in the same spirit as some of those right-angle sequels. Everyone involved does their best, particularly Matt Mercer, who makes for a sympathetic lead. It is a movie that is not without its strengths. Would that they added up to a better movie.
I guess that's my problem with the sequel. It has some appealing performances, it moves well but just makes too many stupid choices for me to like it either as a standalone movie or as a sequel to Contracted. The tonal confusion doesn't work; the icky gore and the dark comedy compliment one another, but anything involving the cops or the terrorist/cult member character stops the film cold. When the sequel isn't rehashing beats and ideas from the first movie, it's introducing ideas that are overly expository at best and really dumb at worst. I'd be interested in seeing whatever Josh Forbes directs next. Regardless of what this movie tries to set up, I'm not interested in a Contracted III.
Contracted: Phase II is in limited release and available on VOD and iTunes beginning September 4.