‘The Cursed’ Review: A Werewolf Tale with Intelligence and Bite
By Daniel Rester
While it lacks the garish blood, The Cursed unmistakably feels like a 1960s Hammer film in other ways. Its blood is darker, there’s more social commentary, and the tone is serious and gloomy. But there’s a classic gothic feel to its horror that made the Hammer fan in me sit up. From the clothes and architecture to the foggy woodland setting to the gypsy-werewolf lore, Sean Ellis’ film provides old-school horror appeal while also bringing some fresh touches to its movie monster.
The majority of The Cursed, previously titled Eight for Silver, takes place in the late 1800s in France. After a land baron orders his village to slaughter a group of Romani people on land they claim is theirs, a curse begins to plague the area. It begins with nightmares of a scarecrow, but eventually a bite occurs and a child becomes a beast. A pathologist named John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives to assist in investigating the beast’s attacks.
Ellis’ film, which he also wrote, co-produced, and shot, is a handsome period piece with some occasionally shocking moments of gory horror. The candle-lit and smokey interiors and the misty exteriors lend a lot of atmosphere to the story. Ellis establishes heavy moods with his designs and lighting and slow-burn pacing, but he livens things up from time to time with bloody murder scenes.
The creature in The Cursed is often hidden, but when it does appear it delivers. The werewolf design is creepy, but maybe a little thick on CGI. Ellis does add a jittery camera effect to the action when the werewolf attacks, which took me out of it sometimes. The best scenes with the beast are memorable though, particularly one involving a barn that reminded me of The Thing (1982).
The Cursed is also thematically rich, with the filmmaker highlighting the evils of colonialism and having his young characters deal with the sins of their fathers. The scenes of mistreatment towards the Romani people are especially unsettling. One particular wide shot is a standout as it lingers on the massacre of a settlement. Ellis isn’t afraid to hammer home that entitled white colonists are monsters.
Holbrook is fitting as McBride, who is hunting the werewolf because he has a past connection to the curse. He makes the character stoic and charming as he steps into the hero role. The rest of the cast is solid but the supporting characters are mostly unremarkable. I wish the talented Kelly Reilly had more to her character of Isabelle than just worrying about her children.
The Cursed goes on a bit too long as the second act drags at times. It’s a beautifully gothic piece though that evokes some Hammer-like atmosphere. Werewolf fans shouldn’t miss it.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 53min