DES MOINES, Iowa —Bringing new ideas to a well-worn film genre is quite a feat these days, especially with the number of movies—between theaters and streaming—that flood us on a weekly basis. The horror genre has been particularly picked over of late, with average joe filmmakers realizing what the major studios did back in the slasher heyday: They’re cheap to produce and easy to make.
So, when someone comes along with an intriguing sounding take on a classic theme, I feel it’s at least worth checking out, if for no other reason than to see if they succeed. Those behind the new horror film The Cursed are attempting to give us a skewed vision of the classic werewolf.
A small European settlement in the late 19th century has a problem. Gypsies have camped out on a section of the land, claiming it as rightfully theirs. The land baron, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) hires mercenaries to rid them of the Gypsies.
One of the Gypsy women has a set of fangs made from silver and set in a human jawbone, which she carries in a small box. When captured, she places a curse upon the land. The mercenaries bury her alive with the fangs, then attach one of the Gypsy men to a cross and plant him above the site like a scarecrow.
The children of the settlement families have all been experiencing nightmares about the scarecrow. They venture to the site together, one day, and one of the boys digs up the box with the fangs. He’s overcome by a sensation to put them in his mouth and proceeds to then bite the neck of Seamus’ son, Edward (Max Mackintosh).
Later, Edward goes missing and the boy who bit him is found dead, presumably mauled by an animal. John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), a pathologist staying in a nearby town, is called upon to examine the body. He contends that it’s something much more sinister, so he stays on with Seamus, his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) and their daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch), to help search for Edward.
The Cursed is a moody and atmospheric horror film, complete with layer upon layer of fog swirling around grey, barren trees under heavy, overcast skies. It also heartily succeeds in giving us an inventive brand of werewolf I can honestly say I’ve never seen before on film.
Writer/director Sean Ellis (Cashback) also served as the film’s cinematographer, and he knew exactly what he wanted to capture. I haven’t felt this chilled by simply a film’s setting since The Revenant. Beyond creating the physical atmosphere, Ellis also chills with a thick sense of dread that flows through every frame. note: Uncharted Adventure Movie
This is also an extremely violent movie. The first third, in particular, is incredibly brutal and graphic. As the film goes on, the violence is mostly resigned to the creature attacks, which consist of your typical animal wound gore effects. Though, there is a brilliant moment, when McBride is performing a necropsy on a beast, that has some rather impressive and ingenious practical effects work. note: Operation Black Light Movie
That brings me to something else Ellis does well with this film: We never fully see the creature. At least not that I can remember, and I’m only a couple hours removed from seeing the film as I write this. Ellis performs a brilliant job of less-is-more, allowing our brains to fill in the gaps. Even during the necropsy scene, we don’t really get a full-on shot of the beast. note: Batman Movie
The Cursed is one of the best, most atmospheric and gory period horror films to come along in quite some time. If this is your cup of tea, I highly suggest seeking it out at your local theater. note: Night Road Movie