The Cursed (2022) – Film Review
Written and directed by Sean Harris.
With Kelly Reilly, Boyd Holbrook, Alistair Petrie, Uhm Ji-won, Roxane Duran, Nigel Betts, Stuart Bowman, Gary Oliver, Richard Cunningham, Simon Kunz, Aine 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 19th century rural 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 of Cursed (which you might know from last year’s Sundance by its much cooler and more catchy title eight for the money) depicts the aftermath of a World War I skirmish (Battle of the Somme) where wounded soldiers are amputated casually and graphically in the background. Yes, it’s an R-rated movie, but it’s also not the only time there’s a disarming sense of shock at the violence and level of gore on screen. Nor does it mean that Cursed (written, directed and shot by Sean Harris) aims for shock value only, as there’s plenty of inventiveness in the brutality alongside creative twists on werewolf mythology (like what happens to people turned into animals after being bitten).
Among the injured is a man with a silver bullet lodged inside him. Elsewhere, a woman appears to be returning home after losing someone, using a happy photograph as a reason to step back 30 years. Admittedly, it’s not the most necessary framing device, although it does make a nifty reveal during the climax. Nonetheless, Sean Harris introduces viewers to the Laurent family in rural France, beginning with an emotionally distant and ruthless Seamus (plagued by the calculated selfishness and stubbornness of Alistair Petrie), his neglected wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly ) and their young children Charlotte and Edward (Amelia Crouch and Max Mackintosh, respectively).
In the next gruesomely jaw-dropping sequence, Seamus ignores a legitimate territorial claim for his loyal underlings to slaughter a Roma community. Sean Harris also chooses to film the arson and murder with an extended overhead tracking shot that lasts long enough to induce nauseating discomfort without feeling exploitative and gratuitous. They also happen to conquer a superstitious group, clinging to a set of silver teeth that could be either a weapon or some form of protection. Either way, Seamus has a man’s limbs severed so he can be hung up and effectively transformed into a human Scarecrow and another woman buried next to the artifact.
As penance for their heinous crimes, Clan Laurent begins having nightmares about overstepping the earth, but vague enough not to fully understand what is going on (aside from Seamus, who has no guilt for his actions. ). The children also begin to play in the woods, knowing the location of the dream. It’s 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 it. It’s also truly surprising that, children or not, no one is immune to being torn and maimed on screen.
After, Cursed undergoes a slightly slow change to focusing more on adults, especially as Seamus hires an out-of-town pathologist named James McBride (Boyd Holbrook, effectively playing someone with a dark, stereotypical past with calm and survivalist spirit) to locate the missing Edward. Some of the children, including Charlotte, also made a pact not to talk about what happened, but despite their words and reasoning (like a biblical passage referring to the origin of money), he didn’t. There’s not much guarantee that someone would listen even if they did. It’s also worth mentioning that this mid-section meanders somewhat, mostly because the characters are catching up with what the audience is aware of and not necessarily for lack of atmosphere on the part of the filmmakers. If anything, Cursed is constantly soaked in eerie suspense as the folklore is polished.
It’s also apparent that James knows more about the situation than he’s letting on, but even though he confronts Seamus upon learning of his troubling actions, he maintains he’s done nothing wrong. As a result, Cursed is something of a morality piece, arguing that some of these characters deserve what’s happening to them as much as we want them to slay the beast (and eventually, the beasts). As more characters are put in 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. .
Granted, there’s nothing too original when it comes to plot specifics, but it’s effectively tackled with remarkable practical effects and even half-decent CGI for the werewolves. It also doesn’t matter that the computer-generated effects aren’t quite up to snuff, given that Sean Harris is fully aware that to maximize dread it’s best to avoid showing the creature, and even better, to be smart with blocking whenever it’s displayed. Cursed is a thrilling and engrossing work of horror that should be one of the genre’s best for the year when all is said and done. It’s unforgiving and visceral in terms of characters and violence, and piercing tension like a silver bullet.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]