You need to say this for Sean Ellis’ horror film The Cursed: It doesn’t waste a lot time on speaking that it might spend on bloodshed. The film, which performed movie festivals in 2021 beneath the extra evocative title Eight For Silver, pits British villagers within the Eighteen Eighties towards a collection of lethal supernatural occasions, together with a monster stalking their fields and forests. The issues that monster does to its victims are ugly, and infrequently completed with visceral sensible results designed to make all however essentially the most veteran gorehounds really feel queasy. However the beast’s origins are far uglier, and way more prone to go away the viewers unsettled — typically in precisely the mistaken methods.
A lot impartial horror is made on a shoestring price range today that it’s actually shocking to see how richly appointed and casually costly The Cursed seems to be, first in a gap sequence set on a World Warfare I battlefield, then in a flashback that takes up a lot of the film, set 35 years earlier. When a band of Romani arrange camp close to a British settlement, rich aristocrat Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) and his friends ship a gaggle of bloodthirsty, sadistic thugs to bloodbath them. The Romani have a reputable authorized declare to the land that may compete with these native elites’ use of it, so merely forcing them to maneuver on gained’t do — Seamus and the others conspire to wipe them out, alter the land information, and bury the proof within the area the place the camp as soon as was.
Shortly after that, all the kids within the space begin to dream about an eerie scarecrow in that area and an occult merchandise buried beneath it, and Seamus’ kids, Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) and Edward (Max Waterproof coat) be part of the village children in nervously visiting the positioning. Occasions escalate, Edward disappears, and it turns into apparent that one thing unnatural is stalking the city. When pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives, asking questions on “gypsies” within the space, he patches collectively the latest occasions and goes into full Witcher mode, setting as much as battle the creature whereas holding onto his personal secrets and techniques about what he is aware of.
The Cursed has its personal mythology and a few unnerving, bloody improvements round what’s mainly a werewolf story, however Ellis will get a number of his mileage round the usual creature-feature horror-story issues he doesn’t do. John doesn’t trouble explaining the were-beast to Seamus and his pallid, subdued spouse Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) up entrance — as an alternative of piling up the exposition, he easily deflects or dodges most questions, in ways in which each make him appear extra mysterious than the typical horror-movie protagonist, and a complete lot wiser. Particularly, he appears to have a agency grasp on small-town politics and the way males like Seamus reply to occasions exterior their management. Ellis additionally doesn’t bore the viewers with “There’s no such factor as werewolves” wheel-spinning, or by making the characters’ information lag behind what the viewers has already seen. Which leaves extra time for the beast tearing folks aside, in a collection of memorable and visually placing assaults.
Ellis’ eye as a cinematographer is the movie’s best asset, and the place the place The Cursed most stands out in a crowded area of gory style workouts. His expertise for creating wealthy imagery is essential to the temper he’s attempting to set. When John or Seamus nervously edge out of a manor home’s safety at night time, they appear as dwarfed by the huge weight of the pre-industrial darkish round them as in the event that they have been falling off a ship and into the ocean. Scenes just like the one the place three staff courageous an oppressively bleak fog-enshrouded orchard after the primary beast assault add a sullen magnificence to the chaos that follows. And the craft that went into the prolonged long-distance shot of the Romani bloodbath boosts the film far above the extra indifferently shot slashers crowding onto streaming companies currently. There’s a luxurious really feel to the staging — the costumes and units all have weight, and the forged brings a compelling, convincing depth to the fabric, however that is primarily a film to observe for the visuals.
However Ellis does get caught on far an excessive amount of repetition round jump-scare nightmares and seemingly limitless actual and imaginary journeys out to see that haunted scarecrow. So many characters go to the spot so many instances that it begins to really feel extra like a working gag than an arcane echo. That darkish joke has an honest punchline — there are such a lot of scarecrow visits that they begin to blur, and so does the road between actuality and desires. However as a recurring picture representing the horror Seamus and his kind have visited on the world, it feels each too generic and too compelled to have the impression Ellis appears to crave.
Lots of The Cursed has the identical downside. The set-dressing right here is simply too acquainted: these tedious nightmare fakeout scares and wake-up-gasping moments, children singing an eerie nursery rhyme that’s instantly related to the occasions at hand, generic CGI crawliness overlaying the extra convincing sensible work. Ellis retains repeating different components as nicely, with three folks in a row disappearing from bloody beds, and too many characters braving the damaging open air to do work that might plausibly be postponed till there isn’t a monster at massive.
That final factor comes from the ethical undercurrent visibly working all through The Cursed, concerning the traumas of working-class life, and the disdain the rich and highly effective present for anybody else’s lives and humanity. The movie solely will get full-force preachy about that theme as soon as, in a second the place John’s frustration overwhelms his diplomacy, and by that point, it does really feel welcome and overdue. However The Cursed does return to the concept repeatedly, as Ellis underlines the methods Seamus and his class oppress everybody of their energy, and the way everybody pays the value when a society permits the greediest, most amoral, most boastful males in a neighborhood to take cost.
That theme will get just a little exhausting, particularly when it’s restricted to such a shallow, surface-level presentation, meant solely to provide the story a hiss-worthy villain and a sheen of self-righteous indignation. Nonetheless related and correct the central level is, it’s nonetheless true that almost all of The Cursed consists of watching harmless folks, particularly ladies and youngsters, endure in grotesque and ghastly methods due to Seamus’ egocentric decisions. Realizing that it’s all a morality play doesn’t make the wall-to-wall anguish of the weak and undeserving any simpler to endure.
And for viewers with a way of historical past, it’s additionally arduous to flee how The Cursed places a racist stereotype proper on the core of its story, portray its Romani victims as occultists with hideous black magic at their disposal. Utilizing a “gypsy curse” as a plot machine was a hoary previous horror cliché again when Stephen King did it in Thinner in 1984, and even again when Lon Chaney Jr. cast America’s display werewolf custom in 1941’s The Wolf Man. It feels astonishingly regressive to see the trope resurface in 2022, with out examination or obvious thought. Compounding the issue: The Romani curse actually steals Seamus’ youngster, one other extensively unfold racist stereotype that ought to have been buried way back.
That unavoidable core downside with The Cursed sours an terrible lot of the motion, and makes a narrative that appears to aspire to the clever horror of Robert Eggers’ The Witch look retrograde as an alternative of envelope-pushing. There’s an actual old-school Hammer Horror vibe to this film, with the garish pretend purple blood changed by one thing rather a lot thicker and extra arterial. However possibly all of it might have used just a little extra considerate dialogue about its fundamental concepts — each onscreen, amongst characters who take the teachings right here with no consideration with out providing any cathartic realizations or conclusions, and offscreen, earlier than Ellis blended up a horrifying fictional monster that refuses to die, and horrifying ethnic prejudices which have the identical downside.
The Cursed is in theaters now.