"The Cursed is quite average"
THE CURSED (2022)
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"In rural 19th-century France, a mysterious, possibly supernatural menace threatens a small village. John McBride, a pathologist, comes to town to investigate the danger - and exorcise some of his own demons in the process."
OUR [TO THE POINT] REVIEW:
When will characters in horror movies learn they cannot put innocent people to death without suffering consequences? Some audiences maintain never. This trope allows terrible people to commit human atrocities, therefore leading to their dutiful comeuppance at the hands of some demon, spirit or other supernatural force.
The film The Cursed is this exact trope end to end. It is a story drawing on themes of class identity, colonization, white superiority and ignorance. It has the hallmarks that the innocent will be victims yet the guilty will ever play the victim card. I wish there was more story to tell here beyond that.
This period-piece werewolf film was written, directed and shot by Sean Ellis. It tells the tale of a French aristocrat, Baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) and his family suffering a terrible fate after he violently removes a clan of Roma, a nomadic Indo-Aryan ethnic group, from land he wishes to settle. Viewers can see the parallels here with other historical events. In a rather spectacular static wide shot, the Baron’s men massacre the majority of the clan. The tribal leader, a fearsome woman, curses the Baron’s men as they bury her alive. Among the items she’s buried with are a silver-laden set of jaws. This artifact is nothing more than a MacGuffin with hokey baggage attached to it. In a violently disturbing scene, the woman’s accompanying partner is maimed and propped up as a scarecrow at the site of her burial.
The Baron’s children and other settlement children visit the site, dig up the silver teeth, and unknowingly unleash the curse. One child disappears and another turns up dead. The local constable and doctor are bewildered. They suspect some wild animal is to blame. A pathologist (Boyd Holbrook) arrives on the scene to help the Baron and his constituents vanquish this new terror.
The plot is one that is seen time and time again. John McBride (Holbrook) is a confident handsome man. And he is indeed a pathologist. But he also moonlights as hunter, therapist, guide, naturalist, marksman, whatever the script requires. This story is set in a small rural French village, so squeezing in a bunch of extra characters seems superfluous when one man can do it all.
The Cursed runs long, arriving just south of two hours. The film is bookended with a World War I battle scene set during 1917 at the Somme. This is meant to be the present with the rest of the film being a flashback to the past. While filmed beautifully, these war scenes don’t pay-off as intended. Ellis could have easily cut 20 minutes out and had a tight, fast paced thriller. Yet, Ellis drags this out and I can see why. While there isn’t much story to tell, there is a lot to look at. Ellis must have stumbled across some fantastic locations when scouting for this film and decided to film as much as he could. His efforts weren’t in vain. This is a gorgeous film to look at. There are streaks of gothic tapestries sewn in so well that scenes blend together with perfection.
The rhythm of The Cursed conveys slow, plodding death, which is made abundant throughout. A lot of people are killed in this movie. Weaker tropes like jumpscares are seldom. Lots of creepy moments fill the beats when dialogue isn’t present. Think back to the scarecrow. Tonally, I was reminded heavily of Hereditary. The score of The Cursed echoes Hereditary’s music. Instead of a boombastic soundtrack with ear-piercing staccato punctuations, Robin Foster’s compositions are subtle suspenseful cranks of fright.
The performances are mostly strong and dynamic. Holbrook carries enough charisma to lead the film. Petrie and Kelly Reid, who plays his wife Isabelle, hang the staunch faces of nobility simultaneously with the pain of grieving parents.
This is a werewolf movie. This means special effects are a must. But they’re a mixed bag here. The expected amount of gore is present. This film is incredibly violent. There is even one particular autopsy scene that reminded of the effects from The Thing. And while most of the effects are splendid, I was unsure why they chose CGI for the main beast. It was an odd choice that didn’t fit very well.
In the pantheon of werewolf films to date, The Cursed is quite average. The wolf isn’t memorable even though it should be. Among contemporary horror films that throw out convenient jump scares for creepy gothic tones of dread, I’d say this ranks a little above average. The messaging and themes here are inescapable. The heavy handed delivery of them cannot be missed. Ellis was trying to sit us through history class again, using his monster movie as an allegory for human evil. It isn’t a bad lesson, but it is patronizing here.