Horror films are well known for their social admonitions and in the case of Eric England’s 2013 body horror Contracted, he crafted a shocking tale of the dangers of having unprotected sex. A slow-burning character driven thriller, Contracted quietly entered the festival circuit in the same year and has continued to churn the stomachs of its audiences across VOD platforms worldwide. So with the door left wide open for a sequel, the directorial and writing chores were handed to Josh Forbes and Craig Walendziak, respectively, Contracted: Phase II went into production and was given its UK Premiere during this year’s Film4 Frightfest last August.
Picking up right where Contracted left off, Riley (Matt Mercer) is left with the consequences of having unprotected sex and finds himself infected with a zombie-like disease. Expanding the universe created in the first film, Contracted: Phase 2 offers audiences a thrilling action/horror film where the zombie virus has slowly started to spread across Los Angeles leaving Riley to find the source and save himself from a fate worse than death. In celebration of the UK release of Contracted: Phase 2 SCREAM’s very own Jon Dickinson caught up with Matt Mercer to talk about his role in the film, what it was like to work with a new director and about his future projects…
SCREAM: Hi Matt. Thanks for taking the time to chat with SCREAM about your latest movie Contracted: Phase 2. After watching the film it surprised me just how different Phase 2 is from the first film.
Matt Mercer: That’s right. Tonally it’s a very different movie from the first one. There’s a larger canvas to the sequel. The first one is a very dark look into this young woman’s life as it falls apart and she begins to fall apart. The sequel is more expansive as it looks at what’s happening in a wider universe so it is less of a character study but more of an action film that is self aware.
How did you become involved with the sequel?
I worked with the writer/director Eric England before Contracted on a film called Madison County and on a couple of other things as well. He was looking for someone to help him put the project together and aside from some short content I had made I wanted to make a feature and gain that experience. So he had me in line for a role in the movie as well as someone to help him produce the movie. We were going to initially crowdfund the first movie as we knew it was going to be a small movie with a fast schedule and small budget. At the last minute Raphael Margules and J.D. Lifshitz at BoulderLight Pictures kind of came out of the woodwork and agreed to find the financing and that allowed us to make the first film together. So that’s how it came about. As for the sequel, I did not produce it in any capacity but I guess it just made the most sense to follow my character. I feel very fortunate that the pieces fell into place that way.
What do you think about the change in tone from the first movie?
The first film is very specific and drenched in atmosphere which at times got pretty heavy. It’s very much a character driven film so since we are expanding on that universe and revealing more about my character and the character of BJ, or rather what he is revealed to be and what he is becoming, it makes sense that it should be more of an action thriller. Contracted: Phase 2 is overall a very aggressive movie in its horror and it tries to up the ante to make a ride for the audience and goes all out to entertain.
As you know it’s a bigger canvas and with any sequel you have to begin to fill in a little bit more about the world, the characters, what their motivations are and what is really going on. The first movie leaves a lot of mystery and I think what Josh (Forbes) and Craig (Walendziak) didn’t want to do is to repeat the first movie. They knew that they would need to hit some of the beats or at least call back to the first film but they also wanted to do a film which stands on its own. I’m kind of happy about it and I kind of like it because, selfishly as an actor, I have always wanted to do this kind of role and get to be slathered in all this kind of make up and do action-oriented stuff. I don’t get to do that very often so to get the opportunity to do that for this role was a real treat.
The sequel certainly is bigger and with it comes more blood and gore. How was it to work with the effects?
It was tough at times, yeah. Mayera Abeita returned after working on the first one and I want to say that she only had a couple of thousand bucks to do everything but for this one she had more to play with and she had a whole team behind her. That doesn’t mean it was easy as we had a sixteen day schedule for the sequel so there was a lot to do. But, as far as the makeup goes, I remember saying to Najarra Townsend on the first one that I couldn’t believe some of the stuff she was going through and that I could never do that. Little did I know that I was going to be going through ten times the makeup special effects as most of the stuff that happened to her was mostly surrounding her face and her hands. In this one I have full body prosthetics and on the days where we had to do my whole body it was at least five or six hours in the makeup chair so I would have to get there very early and sit there for those hours and had all the veins air brushed onto me and everything. There was so much that went into it. That wasn’t the hardest bit actually because that was fun; there was something about putting makeup on that kind of helps you with the character and kind of pushes you a bit further as an actor.
So what was the hardest thing for you to do where the makeup and effects were concerned?
The hardest thing for me, and this is something that I remember saying to Najarra on the first one, is that she had to wear all these different contacts and I had to do the same in this one. I had never worn contacts in my life before then. I always wear glasses usually and wearing contacts in this movie was like jumping into the deep end. I wore five different styles of contacts and two of them were the scleral lenses that cover your whole eye and I was fucking terrified of this as I had to wear these saucer like things and heard nothing but nightmare stories about them. So Mayera gave me some smaller lenses to practice with and the first night I tried to put in some red ones and it took me two hours to get it in my eye as I kept flinching and the lens kept inverting on my fingers. It took until the day before shooting before I got it down to about five minutes. But when it comes to the big ones you need a lens technician for that and strangely they were easier to put in. Jennifer Quinteros was also one of the major makeup contributors on set. She did so much and created so many amazing effects. She was the lens tech as well and helped me with the giant lenses. She kept telling me “this is going to be really weird but look away as I do it and you will be tricked to let me put it in.” It didn’t work so I told her I would look straight at it and when she put it in I was staring at this huge taco shaped lens heading to my eye so I was terrified she was going to poke me in the eye. Thankfully we got through it but the shooting schedule was so tight that often I wouldn’t leave the set. The thing is that these lenses had to be lubricated every four hours and we were so busy we often forgot so by the time it came to take them it out it was like peeling an orange so it was rough to get that out. On this movie it was all hands on deck and people are doing five or six things at any one time so stuff like that just slipped out of my mind and one of those things just so happened to be my eye. Now it was not Jennifer’s fault at all and no one got hurt so thankfully I didn’t have to wear a dead eye contact lens for the rest of my life.
There’s not many things in this world that I wouldn’t do but wearing contacts or having anything touching my eye is a big no-no.
Right?! I had never worn them before. I was literally jumping into the deep end for any type of lens. Back in the days of the first Evil Dead the cast had to wear the big glass lens and those scleral lenses were even worse because they are not pliable, they’re just glass. I remember talking with Betsy Baker who starred in the movie about that and there is simply no way I could’ve done that, I would have been like, ‘No, you can fire me. I’m not doing that!’ There’s no way I would want to put a giant piece of glass into my eye.
Of course not! I’m right with you there on that. So aside from scleral lenses, was there anything that you had to do on set that you were equally as uncomfortable with?
Very little. Well, spoiler alert, the self surgery scene which was incredibly gross *laughs*. I loved that though and I don’t think it was necessarily pushing boundaries for everyone. Also, this is not particularly offensive or the grossest thing in the movie but there’s a scene where I have to throw up on the character BJ who’s played by Morgan Peter Brown. He is one of the nicest guys ever and in the movie he does such a good job as the villain and he is very creative as an actor. On the day we were shooting our big confrontation scene and I had to throw up bile, this thick black sludge, all over his face and we had to do it multiple times. I felt so bad so if there was anything I think that I didn’t want to do it was offending Morgan Peter Brown by upchucking repeatedly on his face. He was, ‘Just… just do it Mercer!’ and I felt awful but I did it and he relished in it. It was great but I felt so bad for barfing on him constantly.
Sounds like you had a lot of fun.
Yeah, it was fun. It was a rigorous schedule and, like any independent film, you run into hiccups along the way and there are challenges but when you are working with a group of people like we had it was really fun to be with people like Mike Testin who did such a good job with the cinematography on this movie as we shot it with anamorphic lenses which makes the film look even bigger and gives off beautiful lens flares. Of course working with Mayera again, who has become a good friend of mine too. Plus there are a lot of new faces too but everybody jumped in and you can’t help but have fun when it’s this kind of stuff. Contracted Phase 2 is rabid and is excessively in your face but does so in a fun way.
So what was your favourite scene to shoot?
There’s another scene that we shot which I can talk about because it’s in the trailer where I get a bloody nose and then there’s this giant explosion of blood over this mirror and that was super fun… It was a pain in the ass to clean up between each take but it was super fun to shoot. It’s one of the first big gore scenes in the movie and sets the bar for what’s ahead. It’s moments like that when you have the opportunity to do something like that instead of focusing on something like comedy or drama when you’re trying to hit the mark. It gets really difficult sometimes to know when you are doing something right but when you’re shooting blood everywhere or ripping maggots out of your body you’re stood there saying this is going to fucking work. It can get fucking ridiculous and Josh Forbes, the director, definitely has a pulse on that kind of stuff like he just relishes pushing things to the Nth degree. He pushed things as far as he could and it was a blast.
What was it like to work with Josh Forbes?
Oh, he was great. Josh is a music video director and a very successful one. In fact he was nominated for a VMA for his music video for ‘Shut Up and Dance’, the Walk the Moon video. He comes from a creative background and from comedy too having done a number of shorts. He’s a very spontaneous director who knows about timing. He likes to get a general idea for the scene and what the objectives are before playing within the sandbox of that scene. He is the kind of director that when we are doing the scene he throws in all kinds of ideas and, like I said, is very spontaneous and that’s why Josh is like a kid in a sandbox. He has all his tools in front of him and he loves to shoot things from many different ways in relation to the objective of the scene. It certainly took some getting used to at first… For the first three or four days it took me a while to warm up to it but in hindsight I think his style really suits this movie and what he is doing is ensuring that when he got into editing he could ensure that the film always had a heightened aesthetic. Josh is a great entertainer and he really is a kid in a candy store. He just loves to try everything he can so it became a great and fun working relationship. That’s what I really like about Josh as he is a very creative director.
Considering how Phase 2 ends how likely is there to be a Phase 3?
I think Contracted Phase 3 is very likely. I think Raphael (Margules) and J.D. (Lifshitz) want it but ultimately it entirely depends on how well Phase 2 does. They really want it to be a franchise and I know they have expressed interest with Craig (Walendziak) and want to keep him writing so I think so yeah.
In closing, are there any projects you are currently working on that you are excited about or want to talk about?
Sure. Right after Contracted: Phase 2 I had the opportunity to make three further films. I did a movie with Joe Begos and Josh Ethier who did Almost Human. The film is called The Mind’s Eye and I had a role in that which we shot in Febuary in Rhode Island as the weather was cold. I also did another film for Jackson Stewart called Beyond the Gates which is produced by Barbara Crampton. That was a blast. Both are horror films and I also did a comedy which was a change of pace called Bad, Bad Men. It is written and directed by a man called Allen Gardner and that is all about a kidnapping heist and it is up to my character to save the kidnapped person.
So yeah, this year I got to play a man infected with a zombie virus in Contracted: Phase 2, I got to play a guy with telekinetic powers in The Mind’s Eye, I got to play a cop that gets possessed by a demon in Beyond the Gates and in Bad, Bad Men I got to play a real estate agent who has to save the day. I’ve been in a very fortunate position to be able to play these roles. It’s been great.
I have also directed a couple of shorts too. One is called Tail about a guy who has a tail and it stops him from getting into a romantic relationship. I also shot a film noir short too called Play Violet for Me so yeah, you could say I’ve been busy and there’s been a lot going on.
Yes, we’ve heard great things. What can you tell us about The Mind’s Eye?
The Mind’s Eye had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a very satisfying film on so many levels. It’s basically a telekinetic revenge movie like if you took Scanners and The Fury and Deathwish and put them together in one movie and you have The Mind’s Eye, which is fantastic. I felt so lucky to be a part of that cast. They have Graham Skipper as their lead and they have Larry Fessenden and Lauren Ashley Carter who both star together in Mickey Keating’s movie POD. They were amazing. There’s also Jeremy Gardner form the Battery and John Speredakos who stars in a lot of Ti West movies. I loved it. I got to spend six weeks with these people in Rhode Island and it was one of the most incredible vacations and jobs all in one. Joe and Josh are fantastic filmmakers but they are also great people too so yeah that movie was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Contracted: Phase 2 is bananas and has so many over the top moments in it and so does The Mind’s Eye. Some of the practical effects they use are incredible. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was one of the first times that I’ve been on a movie that has a whole practical effects team, a whole makeup team and a stunt team so all these people coordinated in unison to create something special. It’s also scored by Steve Moore who did The Guest so I can’t wait to see the full package. I can’t say much else but there’s a lot of exploding going on which you can infer from the Scanners reference but people are going to have so much fun with it.
That’s fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to speak with SCREAM about Contracted: Phase 2.
My pleasure. Thanks, Jon.
Contracted: Phase 2 is now available to buy and rent from Monday 26th October.
Words: Jon Dickinson (@marvelguy)