Sean Ellis’ werewolf period piece is a humorless medley of conflicting approaches that somehow ends up dull.
(This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, under the film’s original title “Eight for Silver.” We’re re-releasing it to coincide with its new title and wider release date.)
It’s a well-known shorthand to criticize a movie by saying that it “should have been a short film.” Depending on whom you ask, it might even be a cliché. How’s this as a change of pace? Sean Ellis’ The Cursed shouldn’t have been a short film as much as it should have been a short story.
If it were on the page, its medley of approaches probably would have worked in its favor instead of against it. It would have left more to the imagination instead of what we get here. Most importantly, its inability to choose a cohesive method to suspense wouldn’t have been so glaring. For those looking for a slow burn, this werewolf tale is too reliant on cheap jump scares. For those in the mood for gore and a good time, it’s far too slow—stagnant, even. Add in its lack of self-awareness for what’s an inherently silly script and you get something that’s just dull.
Dull? For a movie about a werewolf that eats children? Unfortunately, yes. In the late 1800s, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) is a baron who spearheads genocide against a Romani clan. Limbs are cut off; homes are set ablaze. As Laurent’s people bury one woman (Roxane Duran) alive, she begins to chant something. Afterward, kids start turning up dismembered and nearby citizens suffer night terrors. It turns out that that lady unleashed a curse, and pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) is on the case. Naturally, he suspects it’s a werewolf. And hey, look at that! It actually is. So why is this thing so boring?
For one, Ellis seems completely in the dark about just how goofy this all plays out. He coats it in wall-to-wall brooding atmosphere instead, and there’s absolutely no humor here. That’d be fine if the movie were actually scary or unsettling, but this movie’s version of scary is shaky POV camerawork and some shrieks to squeeze a gasp out of the audience. (When the camera looks like someone coated it in petroleum jelly, be prepared for some sort of loud noise.) At the very most, there are two or three scenes where Yorgos Mavropsaridis & Richard Mettler’s editing toys with scene anatomy to tense effect, but it’s not often.
For those looking for a slow burn, this werewolf tale is too reliant on cheap jump scares. For those in the mood for gore and a good time, it’s far too slow—stagnant, even.
Aside from that, it’s taxing to get invested in what ends up happening. Who lives? Who gets slaughtered? Who cares? The way the film spends its 115 minutes focusing on the colonialists prevents any sort of connection or even emotional catharsis from occurring. The gore is solid and Ellis’ own cinematography captures the gothic, fog-drenched aesthetic that always looks good. That just isn’t enough to help The Cursed crawl to the finish line.
It simply lacks enough depth or perspective to meet the seriousness it strives for. The historical context is shoddy, the mythology is shallow, and even the werewolf looks bad. Its design is awkward and the CGI used to bring it to life never feels like it’s in the same universe as the actors. Gut the fat and you might end up with something around 30 pages. Read it instead of watching it and it might stimulate your imagination as a good short story does.
The Cursed premieres in theaters February 18th.