Review: ‘The Cursed’ Is an Intriguing Attempt at Gothic Horror That Unfortunately Takes a Grim Turn 

The Cursed is the latest film from British writer-director Sean Ellis, who is best known for his World War II feature Anthropoid. The film stars Alistair Petrie and Kelly Reilly as wealthy French landowners Seamus and Isabelle Laurent, with Boyd Holbrook as John McBride, a former soldier turned monster hunter.

I missed out on The Cursed when it screened at TIFF last year as “Eight For Silver,” but managed to snag a screening of it before it arrives in theaters on February 18th. On paper, The Cursed sounds like the perfect film for me, merging my niche interest in werewolves and gothic horror with a story played out on a 19th-century French landscape, but it ultimately failed to live up to expectations. While it achieved many of its goals and presented a very compelling horror story, the way that The Cursed brutalizes and demonizes the Romani peoples for the sake of its lore is quite alarming.

The film opens in 1916 as the French and German forces clash on the battlefields of war, and the French soldiers, in their ominous gas masks, make their way through cramped trenches as mustard gas reigns down upon them. It’s all very tense, grim, and unexpected for a film that seems far removed from the theater of European war. But this prelude takes audiences straight into the horrors of war—complete with the mangled bodies, dying moans, and amputated limbs that one might expect during the Battle of Somme.

One of the war’s victims is a man named Edward (Alun Raglan) who is brought into the medical tent with three bullet wounds to the gut. The physician sets to work removing the bullets, despite how obvious it is that the soldier is not going to survive. The first two bullets are easy to extract, but the third one has shattered inside of his abdomen. When the physician goes to retrieve the bullet, he pulls out an abnormally large silver bullet that is quite obviously not from a German gun.

As Edward dies, The Cursed shifts back thirty-five years to when Edward was just a rambunctious young boy (Max Mackintosh) and son of the wealthy Laurent family, who live in a grand mansion in the picturesque French countryside. But evidently, their scenic landscapes are marred by the Romani people who also live on the land. The patriarch of the family, Seamus, is determined to remove them by whatever means necessary. And herein lies my issue with this film.

The Cursed
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Historically, the Romani people have been subject to prejudice, enslavement, forced assimilation, systemic extermination, and were part of the vulnerable communities targeted and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis during the Holocaust. To this day the Romani are still persecuted, and unfortunately, there are still a number of words used that are linked to that persecution, one of which is used throughout The Cursed. While the film is set in the 19th century, when this phrase was used extensively as a derogatory slur, the film certainly didn’t need to use it as an adjective to describe the roles that they cast.

There is a way in which to utilize historic trauma to create a compelling horror narrative for modern audiences, but Ellis goes about it the entirely wrong way, turning trauma into a gratuitous display. Early in the film Seamus decides to rally his neighboring landowners with the intent of attacking the Romani. They mount their horses and descend upon the camp feigning a willingness to discuss the situation, before they draw their weapons and start shooting the innocent people.

Ellis holds nothing back, keeping the wide shot focused on the tragedy as it plays out. Seamus and the angry mob set men and women on fire, shoot them in their backs as they try to run away, and brutalize the women by dragging them by their hair. The film could have ended there and served as a horror in and of itself. It was a stomach-turning display that seemed to revel a little too much in the violence.

But it takes an even worse turn after most of the Romani have been murdered and the men capture a man and woman who were trying to escape with a werewolf-esque set of silver teeth. They beat the man, tie him to a T-post, cut off his hands, stuff his sleeves with straw, cover his head, and mount him like a scarecrow. The woman is met with an equally horrifying death as she is buried alive with the set of silver teeth. Of course, as the dirt covers her face she utters a curse—“We will poison your sleep.”—that seals Seamus’ fate.

Even in death, the Romani people are further demonized as their “curse” leads to the slaughter of innocent children and women. There are odd half-baked allusions to the silver of the teeth being like the silver that Judas betrayed Jesus for—inherently linking the Romani to this idea of being traitors and amoral. There’s no real justice for them when the curse runs its course and the men that hurt them meet violent ends. The “beast” ultimately feels sympathetic because the audience should be able to see that it was born out of a heinous atrocity and was set onto the earth to enact revenge. Never before have I so actively rooted for a horror film’s “monster” to eradicate its oppressors.

the cursed boyd holbrook
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Overall, The Cursed has very strong production design and manages to appease both historical drama lovers and horror fans with its historical costuming and violent death sequences. Ellis employs a lot of gorgeous visuals and some neat symbolism and parallels. The creature design is rather chilling, blending aspects of Francis Ford Coppola’s werewolf in Bram Stoker’s Dracula with elements of American Werewolf in London, and the vampires of John Carpenter’s cult-classics.

The Cursed set out to be a gothic werewolf-ish horror and it achieved all of those things, but ultimately the way that it uses historical trauma as the backdrop for its curse turns the script into far more of a horror than the story itself. Yet even with its creature designs and the way the film is structured around unraveling the curse, it never fully commits to its werewolf promise. Instead, it turns generational trauma and the sins of the father into a much more looming evil, but in a way that I’m not sure was even intentional.

I would absolutely watch Boyd Holbrook hunt monsters in period attire, but I’d love to watch that happen in a film that doesn’t demonize the Romani people for the sake of aesthetics.

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Image Credit: Elevation pictures. 


The Cursed

5

The Cursed set out to be a gothic werewolf-ish horror and it achieved all of those things, but ultimately the way that it uses historical trauma as the backdrop for its curse turns the script into far more of a horror than the story itself.

5.0/10
Managing Editor of Entertainment at Your Money Geek | + posts

Maggie Lovitt is the Managing Editor of Entertainment at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery. She is also a freelance writer and News Editor at Collider. She has had bylines at Inverse, Polygon, and Dorkside of the Force. She is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.

When she is not covering entertainment news, she can be found on one of her numerous podcasts or on her YouTube channel. In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.