I sat down to watch The Cursed knowing little other than that it was a werewolf movie. To an extent, the film caught me off-guard, especially regarding the creature design. The werewolves look nothing like the hairy beasts we traditionally see in horror pictures. They appear more like hounds that’ve been turned inside out. If you think that sounds grotesque, wait until you see an autopsy for one of these bad boys. The Cursed doesn’t make the audience wait for the bloody stuff either. Writer/director Sean Ellis jumps right into the mauling and amputations, albeit while still building tension.
On a sheer craftsmanship level, The Cruse stands out from other werewolf movies, especially Joe Johnston’s forgettable Wolfman remake from a decade ago. In terms of storytelling, though, the film is undeniably familiar. Taking place in the late 1800s, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) is cursed after condemning a Roma clan to their deaths. This massacre is effectively portrayed through a wide shot seemingly executed in a single take. Those who quickly perish in the initial ambush are the lucky ones. One man lives long enough to see his limbs cut off before being turned into a scarecrow. It’s as inventive as it is haunting.
Before being buried alive, a woman curses Laurent, which extends to his wife (Kelly Reilly), daughter (Amelia Crouch), and son (Max Mackintosh). The rest of the village is also overcome with nightmarish visions, although that’s the least of their problems. After one child goes missing, it isn’t long until mutilated bodies start piling up. Pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) shows up at just the right time, having seen this sort of mayhem before. Even if he slays the beast, the curse may’ve already taken its toll.
Based on that setup, The Cursed sounds like a straightforward werewolf picture. In many respects, it is. We’ve seen all of these characters before, and Ellis doesn’t bring many new themes to the formula. In an age of such layered horror movies like The Babadook and Hereditary, it’s disappointing that The Cursed doesn’t give us more to bite into. The film comes close to raising some compelling ethical questions during its final act when one character must make a difficult decision. Even this moment doesn’t have much build-up, though, and the outcome is more confusing than thought-provoking.
Although Ellis’ script could’ve been better fleshed out better, his atmospheric direction more than compensates. Ellis drapes The Cursed in sinister fog, gothic architecture, and a menacing ambiance. For gore fans, the effects ooze with creativity worthy of comparison to a Sam Raimi picture. The Cursed perhaps shares the most in common with a Hammer Horror film, taking itself seriously while still being over-the-top. Would it have been nice if the film had stronger characters and themes to go with its awe-inspiring visuals? Sure, especially when you have an actress of Reilly’s caliber in a leading role. Even if it doesn’t merit a gold medal, The Cursed earns its silver set of teeth.
The Cursed releases in theaters only, February 18.