This review contains spoilers for the original Contracted.

Picking up with Najarra Townsend’s Samantha meeting her demise upon becoming full blown zombie, the protagonist torch is then passed to the now infected Riley.  You know, the borderline obsessive milquetoast from the first film, played by Matt Mercer, who had sex with Samantha despite her rapidly decaying appearance.  Knowing that he’s contracted Samantha’s infection, Riley must race the clock to find the answers.  Answers that the police are looking for as well.

Gone is the slow build body horror from the first film.  The cat is already out of the bag; no point in retreading the slow, but effective, decay of the main character when audiences know exactly where it leads. Phase II instead picks up the pace by spreading the infection at a rapid rate while alternating focus on Riley’s life and the police search for the man that started it all, necrophiliac BJ.

It’s both commendable and problematic spending so much of the narrative on BJ, now played by Morgan Peter Brown.  On the one hand, the stakes are raised dramatically as police rush to capture him as he continues spreading the infection as fast as possible.  It also boldly takes the sequel in a new direction.  However, in this instance less is more.  BJ was far more effective in the original, his face always obscured from view though his menace came through crystal clear.  Here, the exposed BJ is much more a fanatical cult terrorist, therefore ruining the boogeyman effect the character depicted previously. This also seems to place lead detective Crystal Young, played by Marianna Palka, in a different film than Riley, as she spends a lot of her subplot searching in dark basements and discovering gritty undead crime scenes more akin to a Saw film than the one she’s in.

The juggling plot threads quickly become unbalanced, throwing off the film’s pacing.  BJ is set up as a pivotal villain early on but is forgotten until the final third.  Splicing in Detective Young’s investigation causes Riley’s deterioration to progress at a much stranger rate than those around him.  Because of the oddly split perspectives, no character arch feels fully realized.  It probably doesn’t help that Riley seems to forget about his declining health until a new symptom appears.

In his first feature film, director Josh Forbes does give the film the appearance of a much higher budget than in actuality. His music video background services him well in injecting more energy and a polished aesthetic, despite the pacing issues.  The gross out effects also shine here, adding much more blood and gore than the original.  As well as more worms.  It’s not just Riley slow rotting, either.  Phase II adheres to the sequel formula by upping the body count, too.

As a standalone, Phase II feels like a quirky, gritty police procedural meets zombie invasion flick, though not very successful as a cohesive story.  Moments of excellent gore, dark humor, and great energy make for a fun viewing, but lacks much of the tension or panic induced by Samantha’s journey in the original.  Josh Forbes and writer Craig Walendziak have created an entirely different beast than Eric England’s original vision.  Their brazen new direction expands the world created in the original film with mixed results.contracted phase 2