“I Am The End”
Main Cast: Matt Mercer and Marianna Palka
Director: Josh Forbes
It often happens that, when I find an indie movie I like, the sequel–when there is one–is less impressive and just another part of the studio machine. Such is the case with Contracted: Phase II. The first Contracted wasn’t the best movie ever, but I really liked it for what it was. Unfortunately the sequel disregards the themes of the first movie and turns the series into just another in a long line of same old same old movies. Where the first movie was about Samantha’s feelings of shame and violation coupled with her helplessness and desperation to regain control of a life spiraling away from her, the sequel is more about our villain BJ and his goal to infect the world as some sort of apocalyptic horseman, and our hero, Riley, going through many of the same motions of denial and cover-up that Samantha did, only his personal story isn’t nearly as emotional or effective.
Stepping out of the side character role from the first movie, Riley (Matt Mercer, Age of Tomorrow) is now dealing with the aftermath of his brief encounter with Samantha just a day earlier–one thing this movie gets right, it picks up right where the first one left off–by getting tested at a doctor’s office. But then, when his blood test comes back negative, even though he’s showing obvious signs of having SOMETHING wrong with him, instead of going back to the doctor, he hides his symptoms. Why? He’s already established he was afraid he might have caught something.
Plus we’ve also got a new character to deal with in officer Chrystal Young (Marianna Palka, who was the subject of good documentary, The Lion’s Mouth Opens), who is investigating what happened to Samantha, including the deaths of her friend Alice and her ex girlfriend Nikki. Young knows BJ infected Samantha with something, but doesn’t know what. And doesn’t know Riley has it now. The bulk of the movie deals with the cops and Riley both searching for BJ, the cops to bring him in, and Riley hoping for a cure. But then we delve a little bit into BJ’s story, his immunity to the virus, and his plans to spread it to as many people as he can. Sinister doings for sure, but I can see this storyline in any number of cheap horror movies.
I want more of the focused emotional stuff like we went through with Samantha the first time around.
Contracted: Phase II does what I believe a sequel should in that it continues the story we’re familiar with, building off and expanding it. But it also changes tone into a less welcome direction, and that expansion of the backstory was just lame and went somewhere I didn’t think it needed to go. Plus it was retconned from the first movie where Alice mentions to Samantha that BJ had been caught. But according to this movie, days 4-6, he’s still on the loose.
The original writer and director, Eric England, is not around this time, the writing duties going instead to Craig Walendziak (his first produced script) with Josh Forbes (Sara Bareilles’s “Love Song” video) directing. Both are competent–Forbes matches a lot of the style of the first movie, but then opts for the gross-out a few times too many, in my opinion–but it just doesn’t feel like they quite grasped the undertones of the first movie before deciding to make the sequel. It’s like all they saw was “zombie movie origin story, what would happen over the next three days?” and that’s what they wrote.
Gone are the important character moments because Riley just isn’t as interesting a character as Samantha was. He doesn’t have the baggage or the backstory–that we’re shown anyway–to carry an entire movie. He began as a side character and that’s where he should have stayed.
That being said, Contracted: Phase II isn’t a worthless sequel. It has its moments. The opening credit autopsy scene is the second best opening credit autopsy scene I’ve ever … seen (the first going to … Saw V? Was that the one that opened with the autopsy scene? Or was it Saw VI? Whichever). And gratuitous as I felt a lot of the gore was, it was well-executed by Hugo Villasenor whose name is on a LOT of horror movies, and deservedly so.
Even though I’ve had all day to ponder it, I’m just not sure where I stand on this movie. It may have had a more–unnecessarily–developed plot, but it lacked in character development. It may have succeeded in expanding the scope of the larger story being told here, but it did so at the expense of that main character focus that made the first movie so enjoyable. So it’s 6 of one, half dozen of the other, and I’m not even sure I want to recommend it to the fans of the first movie. Sure you may want to see what happens next, but it’s not going to be as fulfilling as the first one.
So in the end, I’m middle of the road with this movie. See it if you must, but do so with the understanding that the only person from that one who had anything to do with the sequel was Matt Mercer and he was given very little depth here to work with. Whatever. It’s your 78 minutes, but in the end I’ll be the one saying “I told you so.”