“The Cured” is a zombie movie heavy with allegory and political subtext. No zombie movie or TV show has a reason to exist without those elements. Only video games and films that aspire to their often amoral aesthetic get around this.
What lifts this Irish film above the “Here they come, SHOOT’em!” trap are the moral dilemmas, the shaky ground underneath either side of those dilemmas and performances that can be downright wrenching in their humanity.
The Maze Virus, oddly not the name chosen for the infection at the heart of “The Maze Runner,” ripped through Europe and Ireland. But in a corner of the world with single-payer healthcare for all, it was beaten back. The infected had a 75% cure rate.
But what happens when “they” are cured? The cured remember what they did when they were infected, and it was awful.
“What they did,” a TV interview subject wonders, “I mean, how you d’ye get over that?”
And to those who survived their onslaught?
“They’re murderers, the lot of’em!”
Sam Keeley (“Anthropoid,” “In the Heart of the Sea”) is Senan, whom we meet in an exit interview. The brusque and unforgiving military man (Stuart Graham) in charge of his re-insertion into society asks about nightmares, as “they’re there to remind you of what you did,” and turns him loose.
He has a place to live, with his sister-in-law, Abby (Ellen Page) and his little nephew Cillian. His brother, her husband? Dead.
So maybe zombie dining habits aren’t the best idea for a joke when he moves in and she mentions “I was going to hire and interior designer, but…”
“They all got EATEN!”
He’s family and she lets that slide. Senan will work at the lab where some of the last of the infected are given further treatment in hopes of improving that 75% cured rate.
It’s just that society isn’t all that welcoming of people like him. The virus made them panting, blood-lusting fiends. But they could communicate. They “hunted in packs.” There’s a question of how much they knew, moral culpability and the like.
“It’s like being trapped inside your body, fighting yourself,” is how Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) puts it. He was Senan’s only friend in rehab. An ex-barrister (lawyer) with political ambitions, he is enraged by society’s treatment of them after their release. And he’s hellbent on organizing the cured, who are unthreatened by the still-infected, to resist the uninfected’s hostility and draconian supervision.
What first-time feature writer/director David Freyne conjures up here is a zombie parable of the “truth and reconciliation commission” era. Bloody civil wars in South Africa, Northern Ireland and elsewhere cry out for those, having an accounting of the horrors committed and using that as the starting point for reconciling.
As in those scenarios, and the vast political divides emerging in Britain and the U.S., there are no easy answers. Here, the government is ready to give up on more efforts to cure the still-infected. And the cured worry that this “final solution” might spill over onto their ranks. Conversely, those whose instincts guide them toward a humane approach are risking their lives and the human race on faith and a hunch that they’ll be able to save those panting wretches chasing them down the street.
Keeley and Vaughan-Lawlor present compelling, conflicting sides to the debate, with Vaughan-Lawlor loaded with menace, even in his most submissive moments. But Page, playing a mother and journalist with enough information to be fearful for her life and that of her little boy, wavers between outrage over civil rights violations and every mother’s greatest terror — losing her child. She will tear your heart out, and her scenes remind one of the most heartbreaking moments in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dad with a zombie daughter drama “Maggie.”
It’s a gross and grossly over-exposed genre, with comedies (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland,” “Warm Bodies”) or cautionary political parables (“World War Z”) the exceptions to the simple shoot-em-ups Hollywood and the Great Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”) have served up.
But “The Cured” aims higher and gives us — forgive me — a lot more to chew on than a mere collection of harrowing escapes and brain-shots.
MPAA Rating: R, graphic violence, some of it involving children
Cast: Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Stuart Graham
Credits: Written and directed by David Freyne. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:34