The Cursed, 2022.
Written and Directed by Sean Ellis.
Starring Kelly Reilly, Boyd Holbrook, Alistair Petrie, Uhm Ji-won, Roxane Duran, Nigel Betts, Stuart Bowman, Gary Oliver, Richard Cunningham, Simon Kunz, Áine Rose Daly, Amelia Crouch, Tom Sweet, Max Mackintosh, Tommy Rodger, Sean Mahon, Mish Boyko, Paul Bandey, Alun Raglan, Oisín Stack, Annabel Mullion, Jicey Carina, and Rebecca Calder.
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.
One of the first images in The Cursed (which you might know from last year’s Sundance by its far cooler, more attention-grabbing title Eight for Silver) depicts the aftermath of a World War I skirmish (Battle of Somme) where wounded soldiers are casually and graphically being amputated in the background. Yes, this is an R-rated film, but it’s also not the only time there’s a sense of disarming shock by the violence and level of gore on screen. It also doesn’t mean that The Cursed (written, directed, and shot by Sean Ellis) is solely gunning for shock value, as there is a great deal of inventiveness to the brutality alongside creative twists on werewolf mythology (such as what happens to the people transformed into the beasts from being bitten).
Among the injured is a man with a silver bullet lodged inside him. Elsewhere, a woman seems to be returning home having lost someone, using a happy photograph as a reason to go back 30 years into the past. Admittedly, it’s not the most necessary framing device, although it does make for a nifty reveal during the climax. Nevertheless, Sean Ellis introduces viewers to the Laurent family in rural France, starting with an emotionally distant, ruthless Seamus (plagued with calculated selfishness and stubbornness by Alistair Petrie), his neglected wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly), and their young children Charlotte and Edward (Amelia Crouch and Max Mackintosh, respectively).
In the following horrifically breathtaking sequence, Seamus ignores a legitimate land claim to have his loyal underlings slaughter a Romani community. Sean Ellis also chooses to shoot the burning and murdering with an overhead extended tracking shot that goes on long enough to elicit nauseous uncomfortableness without feeling exploitative and gratuitous. They also happen to be conquering a superstitious bunch, holding onto a set of silver teeth that could either be a weapon or a form of protection. Whatever the case may be, Seamus has the limbs of a man severed so that he can be hung up and effectively transformed into a human scarecrow and another woman buried alongside the artifact.
As penance for their heinous crimes, the Laurent clan begin having nightmares about overtaking the land, but vague enough to where they don’t entirely understand what’s happening (aside from Seamus, who has no guilt over his actions). The children also begin playing in the woods, knowing the dream’s location. It’s also not long before one of the boys decides to dig up the burial site and try on what are essentially werewolf teeth. As you can imagine, nothing good comes of that. It’s also genuinely surprising that, children or not, no one is safe from being torn apart and maimed on-screen.
Afterward, The Cursed undergoes a slightly slow shift into focusing more on the adults, especially as Seamus hires an out-of-town pathologist named James McBride (Boyd Holbrook, effectively playing someone with a dark and formulaic past with calmness and survivalist wit) to locate the missing Edward. Some of the children, including Charlotte, have also made a pact not to speak of what happened, but despite their words and reasoning (such as a Bible passage referencing where the silver is from), there’s not much guarantee anyone would listen even if they did. It’s also worth mentioning that this middle section does somewhat meander, mostly because characters are catching up to what the audience is aware of and not necessarily for lack of atmosphere on behalf of the filmmakers. If anything, The Cursed is constantly drenched in eerie suspense as folklore is tweaked.
It’s also evident that James knows more about the situation than he is leading on, but even as he confronts Seamus upon learning of his disturbing actions, he maintains he did nothing wrong. As a result, The Cursed is somewhat of a morality play, making the case that some of these characters deserve what is coming to them as much as we want them to kill the beast (and eventually, beasts). As more characters are placed into danger, and more loved ones are attacked, the weight of Seamus’ actions also continues to wear him down, making for a rather haunting performance from Alastair Petrie.
Admittedly, there’s nothing overly original regarding the specifics of the plot, but it’s efficiently tackled with remarkable practical effects and even halfway decent CGI for the werewolves. It also doesn’t matter that the computer-generated effects are not entirely up to par, considering Sean Ellis is fully aware that to maximize terror, it’s best to avoid showing the creature, and even better, to get clever with the blocking whenever it is displayed. The Cursed is a pulse-pounding, riveting work of horror that should stand as one of the genre’s best for the year when all is said and done. It’s merciless and visceral in terms of characters and violence, and is piercingly tense as a silver bullet.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com