Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Cursed, A New Twist on Lycanthropy

Thanks to Maria Ouspenskaya, werewolves have been closely associated with the Roma people in the popular imagination, especially fortune-tellers like Maleva, whom she played in the classic Universal monster movies. A group of French landowners will murder a woman very much like Maleva when they massacre her caravan. However, by doing so, they unleash something very sinister in director-screenwriter Sean Ellis’s The Cursed (a.k.a. Eight for Silver, a much more intriguing title), which opens this Friday in theaters.

They local populace call them “gypsies,” but they might have a legal claim to the land their caravan is currently parked on. Of course, the real law is the lord, Seamus Laurent, who hires a band of mercenaries to “remove” them, with the approval of his fellow landowners and parish priest. What unfolds is brutal, but it does not bother him. However, the children of the culpable parties start dreaming about the silver fanged dentures that were buried with the old defiant Roma woman.

Acting on a mysterious compulsion, one of the disturbed teens digs them up and uses them to take a bite out of Laurent’s young son Edward. Initially, the boy falls deathly ill, but then he mysteriously runs off into the woods during the night. As strange stories start to circulate, the Van Helsing-like pathologist John McBride arrives to investigate. He is not shocked by the brutality of the beast attack and immediately suspects there is a connection to the Roma, but nobody wants to acknowledge the atrocity.

Eight for Silver
really was a better title, because it references the heavy Biblical significance of silver. Ellis (whose last film was the gritty Filipino caper movie Metro Manila) digs deep into lycanthropy lore and mythic archetypes. It is those weighty themes that make it so creepy. Frankly, Ellis has a radically different conception of werewolves, but if you get bit by one, you’re just as doomed. Plus, a particularly disturbing scarecrow adds a touch of folk horror.

This is also a terrific period production. Serving as his own cinematographer, Ellis makes everything look torch-lit, which instills the perfect vibe.
Cursed might run a touch long and the wrap-arounds do not tie everything up the way they should, but in general, it slows burns in the right way.

Boyd Holbrook brings the steely coolness as McBride and Alastair Petrie is cold and clammy as Laurent, who definitely deserves an EC Comics comeuppance. It is a strong ensemble, but Kelly Reilly (probably the most recognizable) gets largely overshadowed as Isabelle Laurent, the lady of the manor. (That might be bad news for her, but it doesn’t hinder the picture.)

The Cursed
accurately reflects the long, tragic history of the Roma people. Even in America, they are the only people to have entire police divisions dedicated to harassing them (so-called “gypsy squads”). Yet, Ellis still satisfies the inch for gothic-esque horror. It could be the most effective historical horror (from a Western perspective and sources) since The Witch. Highly recommended, The Cursed opens Friday (2/18) in New York, including the AMC Lincoln Square.