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'Contracted: Phase II' undermines original with cheap zombie scares

 'Contracted: Phase II' undermines original with cheap zombie scares
Matt Mercer as Riley in the movie"Contracted: Phase II." (IFC Midnight)

The sequel "Contracted: Phase II" picks up where the first film left off: Following Samantha's (Najarra Townsend) uncharacteristic seduction, Riley (Matt Mercer) realizes that he's picked up the sexually transmitted zombie virus.

The film reunites many cast and crew members, but with writer-director Eric England notably absent. Josh Forbes has taken over the directorial reins. Novice screenwriter Craig Walendziak has followed England's template, charting the daily worsening of the symptoms. But he doesn't get that the 2013 "Contracted" was special because it was much more than a zombie flick.

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With the venereal disease as a catalyst, England explored the downward spiral of Samantha's personal life and arrived at insights on the stigma of bisexuality that were more profound than what the Palme d'Or-winning "Blue Is the Warmest Color" mustered. But in the sequel, Walendziak can't tell us anything new about Riley even with the addition of characters such as his mother (Suzanne Voss) and very pregnant sister (Laurel Vail).

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The sequel undermines the original film's premise that it takes three days for the infected to turn. That rule still applies to Riley, but "Phase II" bends it for other characters in the name of a cheap scare. He also demystifies patient zero BJ (played by Morgan Peter Brown in "Phase II") as some kind of serial killer turned terrorist. Rarely do zombie movies seem more desperate.

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'Contracted: Phase II.' 

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.

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