Lord Seamus Laurent and the neighboring landowners show grave concern for the recent Gypsy encroachment upon their shared property. In proactivity protecting the laboring residents and the pastoral farmland of the feudal system, Laurent and fellow landowners order the removal of the Gypsies by hiring ruthless mercenaries who slaughter every last Gypsy in cold blood and bury them in the land. When every resident on the estate, from villagers to the lord’s family, share a common nightmare of silver teeth buried with the Gypsy corpses, an evil curse unleashes upon the farmland with a killer beast roaming, hunting every resident. Gypsy chasing pathologist John McBride enlists himself helping Laurent and the villagers to not only relieve them of the cursed creature, but also face his own tragic past linked to the very same evil he pursues.
Lycanthropy an allegory for the cholera outbreak in late 19th century Europe? That’s the seemingly centric subject to Sean Ellis’s written-and-directed, folkloric supernaturally spun creature feature “The Cursed.” Though narratively set and actually shot in France, “The Cursed,” or else better known internationally under the original title “Eight for Silver,” is comprised nearly of all English actors with very few from France and an American in the principal lead to wage war against a swift enemy that kills anyone without prejudice and without mercy. No, I’m not talking about the wolfish creature that rips settlers and lords to shredded sacks of meat. I’m speaking of the Cholera epidemics of the 19th century and while Ellis’s metaphoric intentions lean more toward the pains of broad-based additions, our modern pandemic plight felt more widespread linking both the past and present with an event that plagued countries like a curse with unsystematic cruelty and didn’t differentiate between the poor unfortunate and the opulent. The Los Angeles based production company LD Entertainment finances and produces the feature under Mickey Liddell (“The Grey,” “Jacob’s Ladder” ’19) along with executive producers Alison Semenza (“Lost Boys: The Tribe”) and Jacob and Joseph Yakob.
“The Predator’s” Boyd Holbrook walks the pathological shoes of John McBride, a man haunted by his past in his continuous pursuit of nomadic Gypsies, and it just so happens that McBride falls right into the thicket of, unknown at the time, Gypsy-made bedlam as missing children and ravaged dead bodies pop up. Holbrook tries to corral in the pathologist’s inexplicable purpose as the character is often too withdrawn from his intent on what he’d actually do if he came across any Gypsies, which McBride never does. Instead, McBride feels like a hero who’s dumped in the perfect place at the perfect time to be the hunter of what his pathological experience and instincts claim to be the death-dealings of a wolf while the village becomes the bewildered and unassuming hunted, led by the 2019 “Hellboy” actor Alistair Petrie as the noble estate lord Seamus Laurent stewing stoically in his own despair and desperate head space in search of his missing son (Max Mackintosh). The only character acting rationale in a conventionally proper manner in her reactions to the whole situation is Seamus’s wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, “Eden Lake”), with a blistering heartful longing for her son, and their daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch, “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”), with a shock-induced and childlike response to her brother’s disappearance. Yet, Isabelle and Charlotte alter course. Isabelle weaves in and out of anguish to the point where her suffering is only implemented to benefit the story and Charlotte, well, Charlotte plainly disappears as a key supporting character who knows truly happened to her brother in the field and with a villager boy, Timmy (Tommy Rodge), who discovers the silver teeth etched with curse inducing rune symbols. The interactions between McBride, Seamus, and Isabelle never quite feel nature and complete, as if there’s an unspoken trust issue between McBride and Seamus or a mutual understanding or compassion between McBride and Isabelle that never leaves the hilt of the sword to see spark action. Nigel Betts, Roxane Doran, Richard Cunningham, Pascale Becouze, Simon Kunz, and Amazon’s “Hanna” star Áine Rose Daly, as farm hand girl turned white wolf, round out “The Cursed” cast.
Sean Elliss tweaks the werewolf mythos to try and shake up the genre, turning it up on its head to dust off a tired narrative of man bitten by wolf, man turns into wolf, wolf terrorizes villagers, and villagers kill wolf with silver bullet. Instead of silver weaponized for good, “The Cursed” weaponizes it as Gypsy revenge, a calling card that leaves bite marks with lasting impression until every single inhabitant, guilty or innocent in the crime against the Romanian wayfarers, is laid to waste by its transformative power. Though unexplained in why the Gypsies forge silver fangs etched with a curse other than a storm is coming, as if perhaps they’re clairvoyancy provided them with a disturbance in the air instinct rather than exactly what to expect, the teeth are a nice cinematic touch of menacing terror literally inscribed on each tooth. “The Cursed” atmospherics of folkloric superstitions blended into a broodingly dense landscape of low-lying fog and uncomfortably vast empty fields surrounded by a thickset of trees comes close to the likes of a Hammer horror setting, especially with the period of time in which “The Cursed” plays out in that has been Hammer’s niche era. The setting might be the only controlled aspect of Ellis’s take on the werewolf genre as the werewolf, if that is what we can even call the abomination of mutation, is written from out of our traditionally known contexts and into a new breed of metamorphism. Hairless, white, and somatically encasing, Ellis’s monsters radically redefine our expectations with a beast that literally consumes our very being and turns us into an unrecognizable fiend amongst the flock. Fast, agile, and ruthless, this newfangled fang-bearer up until the end never received any insularity resentment from me, but the ending abruptly diminishes the near mindless brute strength of a beast with a hint of intelligence in its ability to sound like person to draw the hapless into a trap and that’s where a line needs to be drawn, especially when the technique is used as an out of the blue device toward an endgame.
Whether be a narrative about an all-consuming addiction or about a precipitating plague of chaos in the time of cholera, the uniquity of “The Cursed,” semi-diverging from one of the most revered classic monsters in our history, may be an immediate turn off for many traditionalists, but the film does right by the savagery gore, the minatory threat that lingers in every scene, and that no one is immune from danger. LD Entertainment is set to release “The Cursed” this Friday, February 18th, in theaters. Since this was a digital screener, the audio and video will not be covered. No bonus mater or extra scenes during or after the credits were provided. Sean Ellis provides that creepy fog-laden and dense folky aesthetic of barnyard chic while still conditioning an upscale appearance of a beautifully crafted production from a native French crew of productions designers in Thierry Zemmour and Pascal de Guellec as well as costume designer Madeline Fountaine. “The Cursed” starts strong with visceral intent to be novel by offering callous over civility, a dysmorphic werewolf, and a new set of blingy chompers fit for Lil’ Wayne, but gaps riddle unignorable holes into the story and its characters that ultimately becomes the silver bullet obliterating the beastly nature this new breed of wolf desperately needed to survive unscathed.