Those who want more of the same will get it in “Contracted: Phase II.” The sequel to last year’s grossout contagion horror-thriller shows all signs of having been hastily thrown together in the script department, though the execution is again competent (with only the two producers, d.p. and all-important makeup f/x designer Mayera Abeita returning among the primary collaborators). While the film’s hectic progress is uninspired, at least this follow-up ditches the original’s obnoxious principal characters — not that it had much choice, since they’re all dead at the start anyway. Genre fans who cottoned to the first edition’s icky appeal should climb aboard again, with a simultaneous digital/VOD release likely to well outstrip theatrical exposure.
The movie begins with the end of the last one, as annoying heroine Samantha (Najarra Townsend) succumbs to the final stage of her STD, turning into a zombie and attacking her mother before being shot down by police. As one of the few witnesses to her last hours, Riley (Matt Mercer) recalls further mayhem involving Sam and her intimates, though out of self-protection he omits some of the gorier details in recounting them to LAPD investigator Det. Young (Marianna Palka).
Unfortunately, Riley himself soon starts to experience alarming symptoms of the mystery illness, having made the major mistake of consenting to a sexual interlude with late crush object Sam well into her process of physical deterioration. He also realizes he’s being tracked by original carrier BJ (Morgan Peter Brown), who appears to have invented this communicable condition (without suffering its ill effects himself) out of some mad-scientist grudge against all mankind.
As Riley races around Los Angeles trying to find BJ and vice versa, the villain continues to infect new victims, and news of the plague, as well as the homicidal actions it provokes, begins to dominate mainstream media. Riley’s attempts to protect those close to him backfire, to the eventual distress of his grandmother (Margie Voss), her visiting nurse (Anna Lore), his pregnant sister (Laurel Vail), her doctor husband (Peter Cilella), and so forth.
Though BJ edges closer to being an actual character rather than simply an elusive specter here, the movie spares scant time or effort developing interesting complications regarding the contagion’s backstory or its rapid spread. Instead, as before, the emphasis is not on building plot intrigue, atmosphere or suspense, but on dishing out body-horror nastiness — which here encompasses digging worms from beneath infected skin, and accidentally displacing an eyeball when attempting remove a contact lens.
Despite a couple of brief closing-credit epilogues suggesting future narrative directions, “Contracted: Phase II” feels too hurriedly conceived to expand on the original’s premise in more than perfunctory fashion. The short running time means there’s nary a dull moment, but also that no new (or even old) ideas get explored in more than drive-by fashion, the occasion pause for gore aside.
New scenarist Craig Walendziak does helpfully avoid the first film’s curious insistence on making each character more shallow and hateful than the last. Riley was the sole sympathetic major figure last time around, and he makes a serviceable protag here, surrounded by an equally OK if unmemorable array of competently played support figures. Helmer Josh Forbes, a music-video veteran making his feature debut, does a sharp enough job keeping the action moving fast enough to obscure the screenplay’s patchiness. Returning cinematographer Mike Testin provides a visual continuum with the first film, and other tech/design contributions are likewise solidly pro.