Werewolves never seem to get the screen time they deserve. While there are plenty of films about vampires, zombies, ghosts, and demons, werewolves tend to be forgotten as ferocious, frightening creatures in their own right. However, The Cursed makes us remember just how scary they (and the werewolf trope itself) can be.
The film takes place in the late 1800s and revolves around an isolated village in the French countryside. It’s a peaceful area until the small town is plagued by vicious wolf-like creatures. But what’s the cause of the horrifying infestation? Is it a mere coincidence, or is it some kind of payback from the Romani people who were slaughtered by the town elders? When the town’s children begin to be plagued by nightmares involving the murdered Romani leaders as well as a strange pair of silver-fanged dentures, it’s a race against the clock for pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) to figure out how to break the curse (if it can be broken, that is) before everyone in town is either attacked or infected by the creatures.
If you’re expecting a highly stylized or action-packed horror film like The Wolfman or Underworld, you might want to check your expectations at the door. The Cursed is not one of those films but that seems to be exactly the aim of writer-director Sean Ellis (Anthropoid). The flick takes its material very seriously, making it more akin to a drama with a werewolf element than an outright horror film. Because of this, it might be a surprise that the first half moves at a slower pace than is usually to be expected from a monster movie. After the initial slaughter of the Romani settlement, the focus is on atmosphere, rather than rapid-fire plot developments–which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a welcome surprise for a horror film to feature a more confident and deliberate pace. It lends the picture an air of confidence and gravitas that makes it feel more artful than if it was packed with a barrage of jump scares.
Between its period clothing, fog-laden landscapes, and isolated manor setting where the sun never seems to rise, this feature boasts an air of eeriness, discomfort, and seclusion from its visuals and cinematography choices alone. In that way, it’s incredibly reminiscent of Robert Eggers’ The Witch.
Although the 113-minutes are oozing with atmosphere, it’s not a particularly horrifying tale; rather, most of the film’s horror comes from its disturbing images–and there are plenty. From an especially gruesome “human scarecrow” to a revolting werewolf autopsy, The Cursed offers some fresh images and ideas that add to its bite. But with the amount of effort placed on creating such a masterfully dreary cinematic environment, it does make you wish that the same amount of attention was placed on crafting solid scares. The werewolves themselves have a unique design that’s an unsettling mix between animal and alien, and they would be even more menacing when imbued with elongated moments of tension and more polished CGI.
Ellis’ morality and thematic intentions are clear throughout the film–thou shalt not harm thy neighbor without consequences–but we aren’t afforded much opportunity to care about any of the characters who are either used to hunt or be hunted by the creatures. John McBride has what’s probably the film’s most refined character arc, especially since his wife and daughter were killed by similar creatures, but we still aren’t given enough insight into his mind to care about his success or failure. A little extra development would’ve gone a long way to give his character–and the story as a whole–more emotional weight.
While The Cursed isn’t a perfect story, it’s hard to knock a film that not only has such a clear and confident vision of what it wants to be, but actually follows through with it. Ellis imbues his screenplay with fresh and intriguing ideas about werewolf mythology and curses that make it a worthwhile and incredibly atmospheric new addition to an age-old horror trope.
The Blu-ray of The Cursed is fairly bare bones in terms of special features, but it does feature a roughly five-minute making-of featurette entitled Behind the Scenes of The Cursed. It features highlights from the film interspersed with interviews with the cast and producer about filming on location in France, the use of practical effects, and Ellis’ vision for creating a fresh spin on a werewolf story. You can grab your copy on home video as of May 10th.