Posted on December 21, 2015

Contamination with a look at Paralysis: Psychological Horror

Dawn Keetley

20 min   |  2013   |   (USA)   |   R. Shanea Williams

Contamination is a short film written and directed by R. Shanea Williams, available on Vimeo. It is a strikingly powerful depiction of what it feels like to suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—and it indicates the preoccupation of Williams with psychological horror, with the horrors of the world, both real and imagined.

Williams is currently making another short film, more explicitly within the horror tradition, called Paralysis, about a woman suffering from a sleep disorder. In an interview with Graveyard Shift Sisters about her latest film, Williams recounts that one of her professors at NYU told her to “Write what you’re afraid of.” Williams adds, “I ALWAYS start there.”

1. Contamination, Jade

Contamination does a wonderful job of dramatizing one woman’s paralyzing fear, of exploring how terrifying, how suffocating, OCD can be. The protagonist, Jade (Cherise Booth), hasn’t left her apartment in over a year—has had no physical contact with anyone. Her aunt brings her food, and one of the first instances in which Jade’s fear escalate to panic is when her aunt sneezes. Williams conveys another terrifying moment—getting a package—through a pounding heart that overwhelms the soundtrack and a camera that literally expresses (in lines that shift from straight to wavy) how distorted Jade’s reality is by her fear.

2. Contamination, horror of getting a package

Williams also told Graveyard Shift Sisters that she is “obsessed with the Unknown,” and Jade’s disorder tellingly emerged from an unknown that is, in fact, our reality. After she finds the strength to call an old lover, Rashid (Christopher D. Burris), Jade tells him that she got really sick—nearly died—and that not a single doctor was ever able to tell her why she got sick or why she recovered. Her OCD is a way of dealing with the inexplicability of illness. The “monster” of this film also lurks in the realm of the “unknown”; it is, as Jade says, “germs, bacteria, filth”—things we often cannot see and yet which can, literally, kill us.

3. Contamination, Rasheed comes in

It’s hard to watch Contamination and NOT share in Jade’s terror—and it is down to the brilliance of everything from the writing to the acting to the directing that the viewer is held in thrall (like Jade) to the terrifying subjective experience of OCD.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to Williams’ next short film, Paralysis, which is also, like Contamination, produced by Anthony J. Davis.

Paralysis is a psychological horror film about a photographer who suffers from a sleep disorder, and it stars Nia Fairweather, Antoinette LaVecchia, Nedra McClyde and DK Bowser. It seems to move still more than Contamination into the explicit realm of horror, exploring the line between the psychological terrors of sleep paralysis and the supernatural.

A trailer for the film has just been made available on Vimeo, and you can watch it here:

Nia Fairweather in Paralysis

Nia Fairweather in Paralysis

As somewhat of an aside, those of you interested in sleep paralysis, the subject of Williams’ film, might want to watch the recent documentary directed by Rodney Ascher, The Nightmare (see review here), a 2015 film that interviews sufferers of the terrifying disorder, one that may, over the years, have given birth to many of the monsters of horror films.

Williams’ Paralysis will begin traveling the film festival circuit in 2016.

R. Shanea Williams and Anthony J. Davis

R. Shanea Williams, Anthony J. Davis, and Mshon Pulliam

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