Coming to Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, May 10th is the latest film by writer and director Sean Ellis (Metro Manila, Anthropoid), The Cursed. In the French countryside during the 19th century, a wealthy man establishing a settlement has a run-in with a local Roma population who claims the land is theirs. The prominent family heads in the settlement decide to resort to drastic measures to get rid of their little problem. Yet the sins of the father always fall upon the children and a curse takes hold of the land, threatening the lives of all who live there. It’s up to a pathologist to find a way to stop the curse before it’s too late.
The Cursed sets up a lot of interesting pieces to create the whole. On the surface, it’s a film about a small group of wealthy, corrupt mean and how their actions have dire consequences for their families. Yet the film also takes time to focus on the pathologist not only as the moral compass guiding the rest of the film, but also as a man with his own demons to work through. The Cursed also sets up some really fascinating mythos. It clearly was at least in part inspired by The Wolf Man with the horror trope of a gypsy curse being the catalyst for a monstrous transformation. What this film does a bit better than some of its predecessors is that the curse is justified. While innocent people might die as a result, the gypsies only placed this curse because of the horrific actions carried out by the rich men who wanted their land. The werewolf itself and the lore surrounding it feels quite unique, delivering a fresh take on the familiar. Ellis even managed to connect the events of The Cursed with the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan in a believable way.
The biggest issue with the film is some issues with pacing and scenes that feel like they don’t belong. The film opens and closes during World War I, making the majority of the film a flashback to events that happened in the late 1800’s. The opening provides some haunting imagery and the closing scene brings everything full-circle, but they really don’t feel relevant to the rest of the plot. Specifically with the opening scene, audiences will likely watch through the flashback majority of the film expecting there to be some big revelation to connect the two time periods. Unfortunately, that connection and revelation leave something to be desired. It makes the opening and closing feel like unnecessary additions and ultimately contribute to the sense of a slowing slump in the middle of the film.
Each actor delivers a killer performance in The Cursed. Boyd Holbrook (Logan, The Predator) stars as the pathologist, John McBride. McBride is a haunted man seeking the truth. Holbrook immediately makes the character come across the screen as trustworthy and endearing. It’s also nice to see him playing a more subdued character after being in a couple of action-packed flicks. There are so many other memorable performances in the rest of the cast it’s difficult to find the space to acknowledge all of them. Alistair Petrie (Rouge One, Victor Frankenstein) is great as Seamus Laurent, the corrupt land-owner who truly believes he’s doing what’s best for his family. Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake, Sherlock Holmes) is wonderful in her role as Isabelle Laurent, wife of Seamus and loving mother who will do whatever it takes to save her children. These portrayals and more add heart, depth, and intrigue to the film.
What might be the most mesmerizing aspect of The Cursed is the visuals. There is clearly a lot of care and detail that went into the making of the film not only to make sure it was beautiful to look at, but also to ensure it felt like the right time period. The estates, the clothes, and even the modes of transportation all appear to be accurate and are gorgeous to look at. Between the striking cinematography and the healthy application of fog, there is an eerie atmosphere permeating every inch of the screen that is both stunning and suspenseful. The Cursed also boasts wonderful practical effects. Some of the practical effects gore is so well done that it is shocking to behold. The creature design is quite unique, although it might move too far away from what viewers expect from a wolf-like being. While the creature is almost entirely practically done, the almost alien look of it and CGI enhancements make it appear more CGI than practical. Quite honestly, if I hadn’t watched the making-of featurette on the Blu-ray, I likely wouldn’t have realized the creature was a practically done design.
The Cursed delivers a unique creature feature that is as atmospheric as it is gruesome. Ellis crafts a tale that has familiar notes from previous lycanthropic films, but manages to create something entirely new. While the pacing of the film, the awkward opening and closing scenes, and the creature design that looks too CGI keep the film from being truly great, there is still a lot to love about it. The Cursed has stunning imagery to draw the viewers in, from the practical effects to the breathtaking cinematography. It also has a superb cast that all deliver great performances. Yet what makes The Cursed the most memorable is that it gives audiences a mythos that feels fresh and thrilling.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10