By: Kayla Caldwell
THE CURSED is one of my favorite types of horror, folk, as we follow pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) as he comes to investigate a supernatural menace in rural 19th-century France. If you’re in it for the gore, and the creepy effects, this film might not scratch your itch. However, it’s great storytelling and the moody, grey ambiance you want in a folk horror.
The trouble really starts when a bunch of rich, old white men realize that one of them doesn’t actually own the land he’s built his giant estate on. Of course, we all know those kind of men don’t believe the rules apply to them, and one even says, “There is nothing on record that can’t be changed in our favor.” As if stealing the land of the Romani people wasn’t bad enough, the men unsurprisingly decide things will be easier for them if they just brutally murder everyone and then just cover up the land dispute.
The men reveled in this killing, taking photos of the gory remains with their giant, old-fashioned camera. There’s a particularly brutal scene wherein they create one of the creepiest f***ing scarecrows since Harold from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. One of the Romani elders (Pascale Becouze) had seen this attack coming, and prepared a set of metal teeth with carvings. She tries, unsuccessfully, to bite one of the men with them. In response, they bury her alive. This moment is chillingly overlaid with scenes of the Laurent children singing in their beautiful home.
The town elders may have won their battle against this woman, but you could say she wins the war. See, those teeth weren’t just a uniquely creepy weapon; they also unleash a curse upon the land that draws the children like a 1600s Jumanji, and invades their dreams like our deal ‘ol pal Freddy. The men move on, keep their triumphant photo hidden in a drawer, and believe all is well. That is, until young Timmy (Tommy Rodger) brings a bunch of local children to check out the horrifying scarecrow the town elders have left up as a “message” to any more Romani people.
As if instinctually, he knows where to dig to unearth those silver teeth, and it all goes downhill from there. When Edward (Max Mackintosh), the son of the wealthy and powerful Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie), goes missing, that’s when they call in the pathologist. Holbrook is endlessly engaging as the deadly serious McBride, a man who lost his family in such a gruesome matter that he is desperate to end the carnage. Kelly Reilly is mesmerizing but underutilized as Edward’s mother, Isabelle Laurent.
THE CURSED has the ambiance of The Witch, and a little dash of The Haunted Mask from Goosebumps. These teeth not only call to the children, but supernaturally demand to be worn, to destroy. (Note: They apparently also call to me, because I’m over here wondering if they’ll sell replicas of those cursed teeth to display in my apartment.) The CGI in THE CURSED may not be quite up to par, leaving the reveal of the “big bad” to be slightly disappointing, visually, but the concept behind it is truly unsettling. Though the film itself references the Beast of Gévaudan, it also brings to mind the story of St. Natalis, who was said to have cursed an illustrious Irish family for their wickedness, dooming the members to each become a wolf for seven years.
THE CURSED is rich in lycanthropy lore, but if you’re a diehard werewolf fan, the visuals may not really scratch that itch. However, there are still plenty of spooks to be had, including creepy kids saying things like, “We will all pay for the sins made by our elders,” and crime scenes so brutal, they make grown men in the film turn to drink. I’ve watched this movie twice, and wouldn’t oppose a third viewing, which, when it clocks in at 1 hour and 53 minutes, is saying something.
The actual lore of THE CURSED gets a bit muddled, between the Romani curse, bible verses, and the actual silver coins Judas was given to betray Jesus. However, the aesthetics are right, and the acting is earnest. The inclusion of the Romani people (referred to by a slur) doesn’t necessarily tread any new ground, and it seems more of catalyst for the action of the film, rather than a statement on race relations, or anything else more profound. And while the movie has its creep out moments, I’m not sure if any images in the film end up being quite as scary as the attack on the Romani people in the beginning.
THE CURSED is not reinventing the wheel, but it is a worthwhile addition to both the werewolf and folk horror genres (though fits more squarely in the latter). For those smitten with attractive, moody detectives like Sherlock Holmes (either RDJ’s or Benedict Cumberbatch’s iterations), Holbrook is a delight to watch. Take a trip back in time and check out Sean Ellis’s THE CURSED, in theaters beginning February 18.