Movie Review: A stylish, by the numbers Werewolf tale — “The Cursed”

No self-respecting werewolf movie would be caught undead without its silver bullets, a torchlit search for “the monster” through the gloom, with survivors gathered in a church that doesn’t offer nearly enough protection.

Writer-director Sean Ellis, whose real-history WWII thriller “Anthropoid” I loved, serves up a gorgeous but conventional tale of the beast with “The Cursed.” It’s a ponderous entry in the genre that adds a few new wrinkles, but not nearly enough, to put this one over.

An awkward framing device shows a gas attack, charge and mass machine gunning in the trenches of France during World War I. A victim, treated in the gory field hospital, puzzles the surgeon.

“That’s not a German bullet!”

Thirty-five years earlier, in the part of France where the characters have Irish Christian names and sing Irish ditties and are played by Irish actors and yet are French, something awful happened. It started as a land dispute and ended with a massacre. As the landowner (Alastair Petrie) was murdering Gypsies with a claim to some of his land, he’s the last to realize that the slaughter is only beginning, even though he hears the curse invoked.

Because he had no idea the Romany woman (Pascale Becouze) had this “Gypsy silver” on her person. A silver set of false teeth with fangs and runes inscribed on them was buried with her in a mass grave beneath the human scarecrow the gentry cruelly set up.

As the children of the village and of the gentleman’s great house start having nightmares about what happened at that Gypsy encampment, their weird visions come to life.

And that’s when a traveling pathologist (Boyd Holbrook of “Logan” and TV’s “The Fugitive”) happens by. A child disappears, another is mauled, the kids aren’t telling what they know. But this Dr. McBride has some notion of what’s causing this. He might even have an idea of how this all started, and how it all will play out.

The World War I framing is cumbersome, but at least that animates and provides visual varoiety to the bookends of “The Cursed,” which lumbers through the grey/black (with splashes of orange torchlight) color scale of the production design — shadows and fog, with nary a clear sky nor a flash of green in the late-winter forest to change up the look.

As the wealthy family is attacked, as the locals still go out in small groups to be turned into victims, Dr. McBride has to convince them, pretty much one at a time, that whatever this is, he’s seen it before and it’s just the sort of thing that can curse a family into extinction.

“Is what you just saw absurd?” isn’t a punchline or unintentional commentary. Everybody, especially Holbrook, takes this all quite seriously. Kelly Reilly and Roxane Duran stand out as the lady of the house and her maid, women numbed by the shock of the unknown.

That shock is, as happens too often in movies about the extraordinary, muted. What, werewolves are old hat in this corner of France?

The effects are standard-issue CG beasts, with one passing muster even on the dissection table (Ewww).

What works against “The Cursed” is its conventionality and its pacing. When we know the genre story beats — yes, somebody has to MAKE the silver bullets — the way to make them play is to dash through them, saving your pauses for big confrontations, big revelations and a big fire. The beats are here. They just pass like sands through the hourglass — ever-so-slowly.

You could Oscar short-list the production design (Pascal Le Guellec, Thierry Zemmou) and art direction (Patrick Schmidt, Paulo Gonçalves), even pay special homage to Ellis’s cinematography. That doesn’t change the fact that the writer/director/DP has made a werewolf movie as pretty as a painting, and almost as animated. It looks better than it plays.

Rating: R for strong violence, grisly images and brief nudity.

Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alastair Petrie, Roxane Duran and Nigel Betts

Credits: Scripted and directed by Sean Ellis, an LD release.

Running time: 1:51

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.