‘Contracted’ Morality Tale Film With a Twist

‘Contracted’ Morality Tale Film With a Twist

Available on U.S. Netflix right now is another film from Arkansas writer/director Eric England; Contracted, is a morality tale film with a twist that viewers will not see coming. Despite leaving enough signposted hints that should tell the eagle-eyed audience member in advance how this story will end, the final frames will surprise and impress the viewer. The film is clever, subtle, and gently eases the audience into the gripping story of a lovelorn woman who loses everything by the time the end credits roll.

 

Madison County (2011): A Southern Slasher on the Cheap

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Madison County is a low-budget “slasher” horror film that was filmed in and around Russellville Arkansas. Written and directed by local boy Eric England, the film looks good. The production values are incredibly good, no doubt because England shot the entire film on the Sony Red digital camera.

I’ve written about the Red before in an earlier post: Film-making, the Times they are A-Changing. Monsters (2010). I was most impressed with the ability of the film-makers on Monsters who used the Sony Red exclusively on their film and actually used common software to edit the film in their hotel rooms while on the shoot.

I have no idea whether England did the same, but his film has the same high quality look as Monsters. Also, for a low-budget horror film, the sound is outstanding. Phillip Bladh who was the production sound engineer did a superb job of not “drowning out” the actors with the soundtrack.

My only complaint about the sound was the ADR which sometimes did not completely match the actors when they were speaking. This did not happen often enough to be really noticeable but it did show, perhaps, some of the actors’ inexperience with the whole “looping” process.

The film opens with an homage to Tobe Hooper‘s 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This opening shot told me two things: 1) That the director was a horror fan, and 2)That this film was going to be a ‘cut’ above the rest of its low-budget peers. I was not wrong. While the film received mainly negative reviews when it premiered at the LA Screamfest; Dread Central gave it an overall favourable review with a 3 out of 5 star rating. *Screamfest and Dread Central information courtesy of Wikipedia.*

Uh-oh, wheres old leather face?
Uh-oh, wheres old leather face?

The film follows the story of a group of college kids who are travelling to Madison County to interview the author who wrote an account of a local serial killer.  When they reach the area that the writer lives in, they stop “in town” for directions. They go into the local general store/gas station/diner to get information on the writer.

The lady running the diner tells the kids that the writer doesn’t live there anymore and that local folks don’t care too much for outsiders. One of the funniest lines in the film occurs in this little exchange. One of the boys asks if the whole town suffers from “staring disease” as the full diner’s occupants all stop and stare unabashedly at the group when they enter the premises.

The scene outside and in the diner also seemed to give a nod towards another film dealing with the vagaries of the south and its denizens, Deliverance.

"We don't care much for outsiders here, young man."
“We don’t care much for outsiders here, young man.”

Once the group go off to find the writer, we reach the heart of the story and the action. Nothing too blazingly original here, but England’s choice of location serves the film well and the introduction of a “pig-headed” serial killer (with one eye staring off to the corner of its socket) is a great touch and the actor who played the killer Damien (Nick Principe) does a great job interacting with his victims.

And now that I’ve mentioned one of the actors, here is the entire cast list:

*Courtesy of Wikipedia.*

Despite an ending that was “signposted”, the actual end of the film did surprise me a little as it came from a quarter not entirely expected. This film definitely did not deserve the negative reviews it received, I’ve seen much worse (just in the area of production quality alone, we won’t talk about sound) and in fact watched two films prior to Madison County this evening that were pure unadulterated dross and this  was head and shoulders above these films.

The lead protagonist James is played by another local lad, Colley Bailey; this was his first feature film and he did a passable job. He must be doing something right as he is still working in the industry. The whole cast acquitted themselves admirably on a location that must have been full of ticks, poisonous snakes and spiders and incredibly rocky terrain.

That section of Arkansas has more ornery critters per square inch than most other locations in the US. It also has an overabundance of rocks; ask any farmer. I probably enjoyed the film more than most, because it was filmed in an area just 2 hours away from where I grew up. This “inside” knowledge of the surrounding area increased my viewing pleasure.

My final (and slightly biased) verdict for the film is a 3.5 stars out of 5. Mainly for the pig-headed killer and the excellent production values of the film. I could not find an estimated budget for the film, but I am very willing to bet it was way under the million dollar mark. Yet the film does not look it or sound it. A great popcorn movie of the southern slasher variety.

Body language.
Body language.