Directed by Josh Forbes, Starring: Matt Mercer, Marianna Palka, Morgan Peter Brown. Horror, US, 2015, 75mins, Cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD & Download from 26th October 2015 by Primal Screen.
Following straight on from the first film, Riley (Matt Mercer), now infected with the ‘highly contagious pathogen’ he contracted from Samantha is beginning to get nasty scabs and maggots growing out of his back. He’s also got a detective (Marianna Palka) sniffing around after she’s begun connecting him to the corpses beginning to pile up. Of course Riley does know more than he’s letting on, and with time running out he’s determined to track down the mysterious and sinister BJ (Morgan Peter Brown) who appears to be the creator of the virus.
I confess I haven’t seen the original CONTAGION so I can’t make any informed comparisons with its sequel. Luckily there are some helpful flashbacks early on which show Samantha in full-blown zombie infection lunging for her mother (Caroline Williams) before she’s gunned down. I also find out that prior to that Samantha was raped by a sinister figure referred to as ‘BJ’ in a car, resulting in her contracting this ‘necrotic STD’ which eventually caused maggots to fall out of her vagina (never a good sign) when she was having sex with Riley. Given this rather unfortunate turn of events, it’s perfectly understandable therefore that PHASE II opens (it’s now ‘Day 4’ apparently) with an anxious Riley having blood tests to determine if he’s caught anything from Samantha. “I hope she was worth it”, mutters the doctor. Even though the test results come back negative (really?), we are presented with close-up visual evidence to the contrary. Those deep gashes on Riley’s shoulder aren’t healing, and having firstly removed a fragment of finger nail (Samantha’s?) from the gouges, he’s having to squeeze out maggots with a Stanley knife; contending with Niagara Fall nosebleeds; red eye/grey eye syndrome, and a rotting complexion.
Apart from the wincingly gory body-horror make-up – which is excellently rendered, there’s not a great deal of flesh on the bone in terms of story, and given that we are told the virus has a ‘100% mortality rate’ you are often just left to marvel about just how gruesome Riley’s degradation needs to get before wearing dark glasses and a hoodie won’t work anymore. Still there are some nicely comic exchanges along the way - when a drugstore owner enquires: “Are you alright son?” Riley replies: “Allergies” (before scuttling off to the public restroom for some impromptu auto-surgery). His heavily pregnant sister - married to the doctor who performed the blood test – leans in to stage whisper: “Use a condom with her” when Riley shows up at a wake with his mother’s cute female carer Harper (Anna Lore). There’s an excruciatingly hilarious tribute song performed during the wake entitled ‘Alice’ which is sublime in its awfulness. And to top it all, Riley’s nosebleed drips into the dip (I did briefly wonder whether his ear might follow suit à la the custard scene from Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD).
Highly implausibly, whilst it’s by now well-known how lethal and contagious the maggot germ thingy is, when Riley is eventually hospitalised (having performed his role as ‘Typhoid Mary’ admirably); there’s absolutely no sign of any medical quarantine procedures being observed. And security is so lapse that anyone wearing a doctor’s coat can just waltz right through the ward! In fact the only thing less convincing than this set-up is Marianna Palka’s wavering attempts to suppress her native Scottish tongue and deliver an American accent.
Given the suggestion just before the end credits roll, there’s clearly ambition here to continue on into a ‘Phase III’, but I can’t say I’ve been sufficiently infected with enough enthusiasm to stay the course.
**(out of 5*)
This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.