Muddled, murky and a little hard to follow, “The Accursed” is low budget horror with a Croatian-American twist. It’s got a grabber moment or two, a lot of characters and a lot of actors tripping from that vague, “Balkan” accented English that the story calls for, to Croatian. But when all is said and done, it’s doesn’t deliver on the creepy premise it promises.
An opening credit talks of sisterly “clans” that once existed in the Balkans, conjure women the script goes to great pains not to call “witches” or “Gypsies,” although the viewer could leap to one conclusion and mistakenly stumble to another.
Three such “sisters” emigrate to America. One catches another cheating with her man, a curse is invoked, somebody gets killed and the “cover-up,” Balkan style, kicks in.
Naida must chop off cheating, accidental murderess Hana’s hand. Because “the hand that takes a life HOLDS a life.”
They will bury the dead Aishe (Jena Carpenter), and leave Hana’s severed hand covering her mouth so that even after death, she won’t be able to finish uttering “The Abolishment Curse.” Aggrieved Aishe was about to curse Hana’s entire bloodline to extinction.
Decades pass, and one-handed Hana (Yancy Butler) is presiding over the wedding of son Petar (George Harrison Xanthis) and his beloved, Sunny (Izabela Vidovic). But it’s tempting fate to do such a wedding in the garden where Aishe’s cursing corpse was interred.
And Sunny? She’s got a secret.
Melora Walters plays Miss “I Told You So,” the scolding Naida. Zara (Maiara Walsh) is…somebody’s daughter. I couldn’t figure out whose. Hana’s? Naida’s? Anyway, the daughter has “the gift,” too. If the wrong guy, one who jokes about the family history of “witches” and gets too fresh, she can sic a swarm of bees on him with just a glare.
But Hana and Petar’s problems are more immediate. Something has switched on the Firethorn bushes of that garden, which entangle and slice up those who don’t know the Croatian version of “I am family, let me pass.” And Aishe’s uneasy ghost is stalking the woman who wronged her, Hana all her kin.
This convoluted thriller never seriously gets down to getting revenge. Not quickly, anyway. And that matters when you’ve got 80 minutes of screen time to tell your story.
Screen veteran Butler — I remember interviewing her when the John Woo/JCVD thriller “Hard Target” came out in ’93 — commits to the part, even in a cut-rate thriller which has her trying to hide her lopped-off hand rather than solving that problem with prosthetics or digital effects. She lets us buy into Hana’s fear at her son and her family facing a reckoning for her transgressions long ago.
And she drops a little Croatian folk wisdom — in Croatian — here and there.
“What is found downstream comes from upstream…You can’t hide a cat in a sack. Its claws will reveal them!”
Put that on your daily Croatian curse affirmation calendar.
“The Accursed”– co-written and co-directed by Kathryn Michelle and Elizabeta Vidovic — never gets up a head of steam, never delivers a genuine fright and in the end, never adds up to anything.
No picture this short should dawdle and dwell on the convoluted relationships amongst all these characters. Pace matters, suspense is important and you ignore the pact you make with the horror viewer at your own peril.
Make it scary, make the violence alarming and make it quick. “The Accursed” lets us down on all three counts.
Rating: unrated, violence, sex
Cast: Yancy Butler, Melora Walters, George Harrison Xanthis, Izabela Vidovic and Maiara Walsh
Credits: Scripted and directed by Kathryn Michelle and Elizabeta Vidovic. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:24