“CONTRACTED: PHASE II” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley No Comment
When it comes to sequels, there’s always an inherent concern about the film’s relationship to its predecessor. Sometimes, we worry if it’s going to be too familiar, whether there are too many wedged-in winks-and-nods or if the film is simply just a rehash of the original. Other times, we worry if it’s simply going to be radically undermining its predecessor, offering something that ultimately goes against what made the first film work at all or hastily rewrites the first film’s canon for its own purposes. And then there’s the overall concern that the film will be faithful to the first film and different enough in its own way, but be just a poor example of filmmaking.
But then there’s the best case scenario for a horror sequel, which is a film that takes what works about the first film and uses it as a building block to something much more horrific. Luckily, CONTRACTED: PHASE II falls into that camp, offering something nastier, funnier and aimed towards a bigger picture without sacrificing the intimacy and psychological horror that worked in CONTRACTED. And since the film literally takes off where the first film ended, with PHASE II following Riley (Matt Mercer) after he contracts the necrotic STD from Samantha in the first film, the film operates at a much faster pace than the first film, allowing the filmmakers to fit more gag reflex-testing nastiness into the film’s lean runtime.
Helmed this time by acclaimed music video director Josh Forbes, CONTRACTED: PHASE II is a lighter affair than the original CONTRACTED, trading out dramatic family issues and romantic fears for hints at a larger conspiracy, scenes of stomach-churning self-surgery and an almost game-like sense for following who is and who isn’t infected. The film is much more concerned with providing the audience with entertainment than a legitimately dramatic story, and it shows: the film is rife with body horror, body horror humor and cheeky cameos from the likes of horror folks (Jeffrey Reddick, Benson & Moorhead, Adam Robitel) to seasoned comedy veterans (Richard Riehle, John Ennis[!!!]). On the downside, however, doing so does come at the cost of character development: things move along so quickly that we rarely get to know Riley better than we do in the first film, and CONTRACTED: PHASE II absconds the STD angle of the first film for a general contagion-like epidemic.
Nevertheless, CONTRACTED: PHASE II is a fun, icky ride from start to finish, largely in part to those behind the scenes. Cinematographer Mike Testin keeps the visuals incredibly interesting, even taking on some colorful changes at points to what one might expect given the rather plain palate of the first film; hell, one post-credit scene feels almost ripped out of a Lamberto Bava film with its haunting, purple-ish hue. Meanwhile, Forbes and writer Craig Walendziak get some insane mileage out of a miniscule budget by keeping the character’s close and their bodily degradation closer. Speaking of, this writer would be remiss not to mention Mayera Abeita’s incredible practical gore FX, all of which should keep you in close vicinity of a barf bag and should cement PHASE II as an excellent audience picture,
CONTRACTED: PHASE II also sports a strong cast, each of whom delivers a strong, committed performance even if their characters rarely dig into emotional or narrative depths. Matt Mercer is fairly fantastic as Riley, showing that he can certainly hold his own while wisely embracing the character’s scrappy cowardice as he gets closer towards suicidal bravery. Anna Lore also delivers an exceptional performance as Harper, Riley’s girl-next-door love interest who finds her situation becoming even more dire at an even faster rate. Morgan Peter Brown is also great taking over the role of BJ, taking the character to darker, maddening places while Marianna Palk gives her role as a protagonistic detective her all, even if her unexplained Scottish accent does throw the viewer off considering the character is an L.A. cop named Crystal Young.
Overall, CONTRACTED: PHASE II may not have the intricacy or drama of the first film, but much like ALIENS or TERMINATOR 2 is to their respective predecessors, PHASE II is much more of a fun, suspenseful and outright more engaging piece of horror cinema. Solid performances, strong FX and a unique visual style helps elevate PHASE II beyond standard horror sequel territory. While the film could have been better answering more questions than it eventually does, the film will undoubtedly satisfy gorehounds who have long awaited a worthy body horror fix.