Friday, August 12, 2022

The Cursed

Not your grandad's werewolf story. Actually, it's more like your great-great grandad's werewolf story, and that's exactly what makes it stand out. Watching it, I could almost believe that it was adapted from some gothic horror story written in the late 1800's, when the story is set.

Sean Ellis wrote, directed, and did his own cinematography work. 

Originally titled Eight for Silver, referencing the old nursery rhyme, because silver naturally plays an important role. But changed to the more mundane The Cursed because the plot also heavily features a curse set on an old English estate by a band of gypsies who are murdered when they try to stake a claim on the land. The movie takes its time in getting started, establishing the Laurent family and showing the ill-advised murders in grisly detail, as well as the set of silver wolf's teeth a gypsy witch fashions for the curse. It's not until the children dig up the teeth and one of them gets bitten, subsequently disappearing, that the story's hero comes on scene—McBride, a pathologist, who has experience in these strange circumstances.

From there McBride drives the story, the setup so thorough and detailed that the plot glides along effortlessly on its strength. We know many beats of the story already; people will be attacked, the survivors changing too, until McBride closes in on the beast and discovers how to stop it. A classic in many ways. There's appeal in a classic story told well for me, but there's also a fresh appeal in this one's approach. Details of the creature design, origin and behavior which bring out the eerie and bleak style of horror. The character of the family involved. And most of all for me, the period setting, and location. The house, the village and the surrounding woods all make for a memorable, creepy, and gorgeous visual for the story to live in—a crucial element for gothic tales.

The imagery of the silver teeth was a great touch. There are many good details like that.

I have a soft spot for the sort of low-tech horror that happens here. Someone taking the time to load their muzzleloader rifle before firing an important shot brings the same sort of suspense as a modern-day scene wishes it could when it makes characters suddenly clumsy in their panic to load something that should take two seconds. The army takes days to arrive unlike modern cops, so there is no need to fabricate a reason why outside help doesn't come. Suddenly a single threat becomes so monstrous that you wonder how it will ever be dealt with. A great example of how less is more. Without having to overblow the horror element to get attention, the film has plenty of spare time to spend on character and lore development. 

While it's not my new favorite movie or anything, I'm at a loss for any significant flaw here. The one thing that comes to mind is that Boyd Holbrook isn't British, and that is apparent when he speaks next to his British castmates. He errs on the subtle side mostly which is smart, but sometimes he'll say something that just plain sounds wrong. I enjoy watching Holbrook far too much to care though. And as far as performance goes, everyone hits the spot. Besides the spotty accent, Holbrook feels every bit the gothic horror hero, balancing that simple and able determination of old-fashioned leads with the undercurrent of past wounds that keeps audiences engaged. Kelly Reilly's soft strength is perfect for the mother, as is complex coldness Alistair Petrie brings to the father. The children are excellent, and the supporting cast a vital and winning addition.

The daughter's old timey accent was flawless.

The slow, depressed gothic approach to the horror element won't be for people looking for a more intense, action-heavy, or scream-inducing horror experience, but it gets the tone exactly right for my tastes. It's the sort of movie you can dig into—and one that digs into you right back. The ending seals it all into a neat and emotionally resonate package, leading me to the observation that this is a story of singular vision; written, directed, and even shot by the same man. And with minimal interference, his vision comes through with deft skill and purposeful heart. I would praise it for that even if I didn't find much personal worth in the story itself. The Cursed or Eight for Silver, whatever it is called, this monster movie of old-fashioned sensibilities is worth seeking out.