Over the last 20 years, vampires and zombies enjoyed a revival in horror. HBO series True Blood and (for better or worse) Twilight re-ignited a wider interest with vampires. And zombies dominated horror on the big and small screen for a better part of a decade. Comparatively, werewolves haven’t enjoyed quite the same renaissance. However, a handful of good wolf movies have come out recently including Werewolves Within, Bloodthirsty, and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Now indie horror The Cursed has put a new spin on the mythology to largely positive reviews.
In late 19th century France, at the urging of village elders, wealthy owner Seamus Laurent leads the brutal murder of a Roma clan claiming title to the land. As a warning, Laurent crucifixes one Roma leader, erecting him as a scarecrow. And Laurent buries a Roma woman alive while she grips onto silver fangs. Now the villagers are suffering nightmarish visions of the scarecrow. And when a handful of children dig up the silver fangs on a dare, a deadly curse is passed on to Laurent and his townspeople.
The Cursed a Visually Impressive Re-Invention of the Werewolf
From its opening scene, The Cursed immediately establishes that it’s working with excellent production values. Every bit as much an historical piece as it horror, The Cursed is an atmospheric, gorgeously filmed movie. Set against a muted color palette, writer and director Scott Ellis uses the wooded French landscape and swirling mists to create what feels like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. Moreover, Ellis exhibits a strong grasp on horror basics – the scarecrow nightmare sequences strike an unnerving chord. There’s also a generous helping of jumps in a movie that never drags for too long. Maybe The Cursed is missing some of the visceral horror you’d expect from a werewolf movie, but it’s not lacking for disturbing imagery.
While there’s been past twists on werewolf mythology, Ellis takes big risks with his approach. In fact, for nearly half of the movie, one would be forgiven for not knowing this was indeed a werewolf movie.
In addition, The Cursed offers one of the more inventive approaches to a familiar horror movie monster. While there’s been past twists on werewolf mythology, Ellis takes big risks with his approach. In fact, for nearly half of the movie, one would be forgiven for not knowing this was indeed a werewolf movie. Certainly, the creature effects – which appear to mix practical and digital effects – are wholly unique. The visual of the curse literally enveloping its victim lends itself to multiple interpretations. While the effects themselves are quite good, Ellis wisely obscures a full view of his monster for most of the movie. He uses angles and obstacles in a variety of inventive ways to hint at the horror without fully unveiling it.
The Cursed Finds Deeper Meaning in the Subgenre
In addition to the striking visuals, Ellis’ screenplay gives the werewolf mythos some interesting new ground to prowl. First, The Cursed sets its main story within a wraparound narrative set 35 years later at The Battle of the Somme. Though it doesn’t advance the thriller’s main story, the wraparound add some emotional resonance to the movie as well as offering a somewhat character arc for Boyd Holbrook’s ‘John McBride’. And while werewolf movies don’t have the same reputation for social commentary as the zombie genre, Ellis potentially inserts a subtext open to different interpretations. Just Ellis’ story of wealthy elite usurping land and the violent legacy it leaves feels resonant.
Just Ellis’ story of wealthy elite usurping land and the violent legacy it leaves feels resonant.
Even the performances in The Cursed are exceptionally good. Holbrook (The Predator, Logan) continues to demonstrate his range with a quietly commanding presence. But The Cursed nearly wastes Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone, Lake Eden) in a role that sidelines her for much of the movie. Though Reilly eventually gets her moment in the thriller’s final act – and not surprisingly, she’s excellent – her character’s arc feels less satisfactory. Unlike Holbrook’s ‘McBride’, Reilly’s ‘Isabelle Laurent’ spends too much time in the background to have the same emotional impact.
The Cursed Sets Itself Apart From the Pack
Though it may not always have the bite horror fans expect of a werewolf movie, The Cursed illustrates the genre at its absolute peak. From the cinematography to the performances, The Cursed is every bit a prestige movie. Moreover, Ellis demonstrates that even some of the oldest horror monsters are ripe for re-invention. Arguably, Ellis has re-imagined werewolf lore in one of the more unique ways in recent memory. Alongside a potentially deeper subtext, Ellis also remembers to bring the atmosphere and scares. ‘