The only thing better than a good horror movie is a horror movie set in a historical period that draws on significant events of our history to help tell its tale. The new film The Cursed does just that, setting a twisted and terrifying werewolf story deep in the heat of 19th century France during the cholera epidemic. The epidemic serves as a perfect backdrop for a story that centers around a different type of “infection,” but the true culprit here isn’t science, or even the raging beast terrorizing a small village and the family that supports it. It’s something more diabolical, which gives The Cursed a different beat to dance to.
The Cursed stars Boyd Holbrook (The Predator, Logan) as John McBride, a pathologist who seemingly travels Europe offering his scientific services to communities who need them during the cholera epidemic. When the young son of the Laurent family mysteriously goes missing one night, McBride is called in to help investigate, and he uncovers a secret that could ultimately destroy the Laurent family, as well as the villagers that the Laurents support.
The film opens during the Great War in a trench in France before a violent battle. The Germans attack first with mustard gas and then with a hail of bullets, and one young officer is shot multiple times. When the officer is taken to a field surgeon to get the bullets removed, the doctor finds something else inside the man, which triggers the story to go back 35 years where we meet the Laurents, including father Seamus (Alistair Petrie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), mother Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, Yellowstone, Flight), daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) and son Edward (Max Mackintosh).
The Laurents are wealthy landowners who employ a small village of citizens to tend to their lands and work the estate. When a roving band of Romani settle on the Laurent’s land, Seamus and the rest of the prominent families hire mercenaries to deal with the problem. The solution is a violent confrontation that sees the Romani wiped out, with one of the clan leaders crucified like a scarecrow to ward off other Romani clans from trying to stake claim to the land, and the clan elder to be buried alive, but not before she places a curse on all those involved in the slaughter.
Before that violent attack, and sensing the imminent danger, the clan elder asked the blacksmith to forge a protective totem using pieces of ancient silver coins, which may or may not be the same silver that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus. The blacksmith turns the silver into a set of ominous fangs, and those fangs are buried along with the rest of the dead.
Later, Edward, Charlotte, and some village kids are all plagued by nightmares of the creepy scarecrow and an undead witch roaming the woods. The kids seek out the place in their dreams and find the silver fangs, which unleashes the curse in its full horrific force and the carnage begins.
Writer-director Sean Ellis (Anthropoid, Cashback) seems to hit all the right notes for a good horror story. We have scarecrows, undead ghouls, and, of course, were-beasts that terrorize the cast, and each element works to create a melange of horror’s greatest hits to full effect. Ellis also serves as cinematographer, and he is quite capable of presenting his nightmarish vision of 19th century France is an almost perfect way. Almost perfect, as there are scenes in The Cursed that are too dark to see what’s happening, but that might have been his goal, as it does add to the creepiness factor.
Ellis’ horror influences are very easy to discern. The beast is seen very sparingly, which brings up comparisons to films like Jaws in that the fear comes from what we don’t see. John Carpenter’s The Thing is also an influence, as The Cursed is gory is spots, and once scene — the one that makes me recall The Thing — has stuck with me for a good week after watching, which is a hallmark of a good horror film. There are even hints of more cerebral period-piece horror films like The Witch. And, of course, the influences from Universal’s original The Wolf Man are present as well, as both deal with a “gypsy” curse.
Ellis and his cast seemingly work in perfect harmony to deliver a compelling and uniquely fresh take on the classic werewolf mythos, and the audience is brought along for a terrifying ride they will not soon forget.
The Cursed, which originally had the title Eight for Silver when it debuted at Sundance in 2021, is one of those genre films that makes me excited to know that horror is not going anywhere. It would be easy to argue that there are no new ideas when it comes to scary movies, but sometimes a few tweaks to an existing formula can make all the difference in the world. Sean Ellis and his very talented cast have not only created the seminal werewolf film of this generation, but The Cursed is one of the best horror films in decades, and one that I can’t wait to revisit over and over now that it’s in theaters.
The Cursed is rated R and is in theaters on February 18.
TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.