Review by Randall Nichols
In the past ten years, most “bad trip” movies – that is, movies depicting the darker side of recreational drug use, have pulled heavily from the aesthetic of the 2000 film adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr’s Requiem for a Dream. While Aronofsky’s portrayal of substance abuse was revolutionary for its time, I always thought it left the next decade of drug-related cinema a little bland, with too many fast cuts and too much shaky camerawork, as though the intention was to make us, the viewers, feel sick, through motion sickness rather than empathy.
In comparison, Jeremiah Kipp’s Contact as a stylistically ambitious take on the genre. The film follows a young couple’s experience with a mysterious drug purchased from a flamboyant and almost other-worldly pusher [played by Alan Rowe Kelly], an encounter that sends them on a runaway psychotropic horror-trip that neither will come out of unscathed. While it would have been easy [and effective enough] to follow Aronofsky’s aesthetic, Kipp culls his influences from earlier films. Contact wears these influences proudly on its sleeve, boasting both a Dario Argento-like score and a David Lynch-like feeling of suspenseful disorientation.
The film rings strongly of early George Romero as well, owing largely to the hipness of the movie’s characters, in both costuming and attitude, contrasted with the darker side of the world they operate in. Even a dingy no-man’s land beneath an underpass seems fresh in Kipp’s vision, adding a compelling sense of “cool” to the film’s overall aesthetic. And it is in this dilapidated and dangerous setting we meet our unnamed protagonists, our young couple looking to score, and join them on their downward spiral. A fall which is portrayed with a perverse appeal, where in the most startling, violent moments there is something desirable about the world Contact is set in.
However clear its influences, Contact is not a derivative work, and its true innovation lies in narrating this type of story using the framework of a suspense/horror film. More impressive is how minimalistically Kipp goes about doing this -- the opening scene consists of little more than an older couple setting a table at dinner, but with a subtle pause at the addition of third plate the mood becomes suddenly tense. Thus the tone is set – we are left with a sense of apprehension, even as the scene transitions to the film’s starring couple.
When they finally take the drug, the payoff is as impressive as the suspense has implied it would be. Things turn dark and violent quickly, and so much so that mere minutes into the trip even the visual of the two lovers touching is unnerving. All this is made even stronger by the performance of Kipp’s leading lady, Zoe Daelman Chlanda, who goes from innocent, intimate, and trusting to terrified and vulnerable by this runaway trip she’s trapped in. Her chemistry with co-star Robb Leigh Davis takes the performance to the next level, conveying the couple’s descent into their own psychopharmacological nightmare – a nightmare which isolates the lovers from each other so completely that, even lying next to one another, they could not seem farther apart.
There’s little actual dialogue in the film, with most verbal exchanges between characters just mouthed, with the film’s impressive score taking the lead. Contact works well despite its pointed silence, and its minimalist aesthetic is strengthened by letting the actions and expressions of the characters speak for themselves. While it is slightly jarring when we’re allowed to hear the dealer speak, the advice imparted, a simple instruction to “take this together,” hangs heavy as you begin to realize that even in the same room, the couple are going to have to take this trip they’re on alone. It was a risky choice, but one that works well, and even someone as fond of dialogue as I am was charmed by the final effect.
Contact is an impressive film that manages to have all the trappings of the art house style, coupled not inappropriately with the sex and violence of an old school grind house picture. It’s suspenseful, scary, and clever, with the deliberate pacing necessary for a short film that plays up the tension and eventually delivering on the promised horror. The end result is a consummate example of what low budget horror can be in talented, capable hands – stirring, unsettling, and beautiful.
Jeremiah Kipp is a New York filmmaker with credits in writing, directing, and producing on numerous independent films. His latest work is Contact, which he wrote and directed, and can be viewed online as part of the IndieRoar Online Film Competition [http://www.indieroar.com/]. When not making movies, he contributes to Fangoria magazine and several other horror -related publications. More information can be found on Kipp and his future projects here.