Synopsis: In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper and sinister force that has the manor and its townspeople in its grip.
Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Áine Rose Daly
Director: Sean Ellis
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Never underestimate the power of a movie title. While one might argue a great movie will always manage to shine through the worst marketing and release plan a studio can throw at it (hey, the tagline “Collide with Destiny” and cut and paste poster almost sank early materials for 1997’s Titanic!), a memorable title will always be favorable to something entirely insignificant. Would 1992’s Basic Instinct have stirred up that same sharp edge if it went into theaters as Love Hurts? Could Spaceman from Pluto break box office records as well as Back to the Future? There’s no way $3,000 was staying as the title for the Julia Roberts and Richard Gere fairy tale romance Pretty Woman, but the fact that it went into production with it is a minor miracle.
The flip side to that coin is when the change is worse, like The Cursed, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival as Eight for Silver. Now, Eight for Silver is a great title and one that stuck in my mind, bolstered by positive notices and the promise of its werewolf tale having some modicum of pedigree. I made a mental note to keep my ear to the ground for it when it popped up, but before I knew it, it had vanished into the ether of the post-festival haze. It was only after I received information on a new film, The Cursed, and investigated it further that I discovered the title change. Going from something unique to what can only be described as lackluster (even where werewolf movies are concerned) speaks to some of the issues with the film itself.
Written and directed by Sean Ellis (Anthropoid), The Cursed begins promisingly enough, dropping us onto the battlefields of World War I before jumping back even further to the 18th-century French estate where one of the soldiers grew up. His family owns the massive manse but may not have a true claim to the Roma-occupied land surrounding it, a slight annoyance to Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie, Victor Frankenstein). Banding together with the other estate owners in the area, Laurent has the Romas (often referred to in outdated terminology as gypsies) not just tossed off the land but violently murdered, so they can’t ever return for revenge…at least not in their current form. Before being buried alive in a blood-soaked field and after seeing her husband executed horribly, a woman curses the land and takes with her a silver souvenir we’ve come to understand holds special significance.
Not long after this brutality, the children of the landowners are playing in the field and uncover a set of silver teeth that seem to possess all who encounter them. When one of the boys puts the teeth to good use, a boy is bitten, setting off a chain reaction of events, including a physical transformation and violent attacks that tie back to the original curse. A visiting pathologist (Boyd Holbrook, The Host) with exposure to these kinds of animalistic strikes is called on to track the beast and cure the land of the plague that has descended upon it. As the body count rises, creating other creatures along the way, the pathologist and the mother (Kelly Reilly, Flight) of the bitten boy work in tandem to lure the monster out of its hiding place and into an arena where it can be trapped and dealt with swiftly.
The first hour of The Cursed is riveting stuff, with Ellis nicely setting up the tragic series of events that befall the people unfortunate enough to be living in the crosshairs of the hollow-souled Laurent and his cronies. The attack on their camp is shot from a high vantage point in one long take, and it only makes you feel more helpless to what is happening in front of you instead of further removed from the violence being committed. The torture scenes are tough to stomach, making the comeuppance all the more satisfying later on. It does get rocky for a while, though.
The children of the film are where The Cursed starts to feel its namesake. Devoid of much personality, the child actors are somewhat of a black hole of blank stares, yet they are tasked with some important business of narrative tension and plot furthering they aren’t fully equipped to handle. The main pivot point rests in one of the supporting performances and the young dude is not up to the task. It’s much better when “the adults are talking,” so it’s nice that Holbrook and Reilly have such an easy rapport, even if Reilly appears to be choosing each word out of a hat with how intentional each word is released.
The creature effects are decent, but the CGI isn’t stellar; I’ll always opt for the person in the rubber (or furry) suit where these types of films are concerned, and toward the end, too much of this felt like a video game knockoff. The Cursed tends to work the best when there’s no creature at all, and Ellis, who also serves as cinematographer, lets the camera stand in for the stalking beast. It’s hard to do another take on a werewolf film, and while a few new wrinkles are thrown in along the way, it’s often as generic and staid as the title is.