The abnormal often finds its roots in the commonplace creatures of the world. The brilliance and cunning of wolves have long made them an easy target for someone believing them to be supernatural in origin. After all, they can show extreme precision and brilliant tactics in their hunting patterns. It is no wonder that rumors and stories of werewolves would spread across the land. Yet fables can be based on falsehoods and whispers. The creation of false narratives can be far more dangerous than the creatures of the stories, allowing social gatherings to ignore reason. The latest film from director Sean Ellis, The Cursed, relishes fusing its period setting with iconic horror creatures. The resulting film is a roller-coaster, resulting in some incredible highs before some unfortunate dips.
The Cursed explores the repercussions of greeed in the English countryside. When a Romani settlement springs up in the forests, local officials take matters into their own hands. However, the town’s children face nightmarish visions of a scarecrow and a set of silver-toothed dentures buried at the site of a tragedy. When the son of local aristocrat Seamus Laurant (Alistair Petrie) goes missing, the town recruits pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) to assist the search. Soon, the bodies of children and the working class servants begin to pile up the town finds itself trapped by a new foe of unknown origin.
Much of The Cursed’s success comes from its deployment of Holbrook. The young actor has scratched the surface of his potential, and The Cursed sets the stage for a future of layered dramatic performances. He channels grief and guilt in ways that draw parallels to DiCaprio’s work in the underappreciated Shudder Island. Yet Holbrook shoulders the burden of this film as its most bankable star. Unfortunately for Kelly Reilly, the film pushes her into the box of “worried mother,” a role she’s unable to escape. While Reilly and Holbrook share chemistry when allowed to, they become hamstrung by the film’s more immediate narrative needs.
Ellis certainly knew how to populate the world with garish and disturbing imagery. The silver teeth are a remarkable piece of production design in their own right. The craft to bring the period-specific costumes and town to life showcases an artistic side to The Cursed. Ellis’ collaborations with production designers Pascal Le Guellec, Thierry Zemmour, and costumer Madeline Fontaine pay incredible dividens.
However, there is a glaring weakness in The Cursed that undercuts much of the film. While the creature design of the inspired monsters would be a highlight, their execution leaves much to be desired. Most specifically, the CG of The Cursed struggles to create believable monsters. There are so visually unappealing their appearance hurts the film.
The first half of the film frightens with conniving scarecrows, floating witches, and the natural atmosphere of the moors. When the creatures arrive, the actors sell the horror on screen. However, the grayish blobs that attack our protagonists bear a striking resemblance to the equally frustrating 2011 The Thing prequel. Unlike that film, the rest of The Cursed clicks into place. Whether this failure is due to a lack of budget, poor designs, or an overambitious director, these dogs do not work visually.
Despite this, The Cursed is a pleasant surprise in early 2022. The period setting and lavish interiors provide plenty of beauty on screen. Ellis’ role as Director of Photography also provides him near-complete visual control of the film. Ellis’s next film could be his big breakthrough if this is how he sees the world. First, however, he will have to work on his direction and framing of his CGI to take the next step up as a filmmaker.