Sean Ellis' The Cursed, originally titled Eight for Silver, is a twist on the werewolf film starring Alistair Petrie, Boyd Holbrook, and Kelly Reilly. Set in the late nineteenth century, the film opens unexpectedly on a battlefield. Ellis' camera floats through a crammed trench of masked French soldiers as they get hit with mustard gas. Edward remarkably survives the gas but is wounded by three bullets. When he reaches a hospital tent, the doctor begins to remove them. Two of the bullets are normal, but one is made of silver. Edward soon dies but the mystery begins as the film clocks back 35 years.
The film proceeds with another plot setup. In a grand mansion in the French countryside, we meet the wealthy Laurent family. A Roma clan with a legitimate claim to the land is at odds with patriarch Seamus (Alistair Petrie). Seamus is thinking of his family, wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly), daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch), and young son Edward (Max Mackintosh). However, his actions are extreme and he and other men brutally murder the Roma clan. Ellis serves as the film's cinematographer and he shoots the massacre from a wide distance. It is an effective scene. Two of the Roma clan's leaders are made an example of. One is savagely made into a living scarecrow and the other is buried alive. Before they die, they curse the family and townsfolk. Soon the children in the area begin having nightmares. The children unearth something that cause one boy to become possessed and he bites Edward, who soon vanishes.
Famed pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives shortly after these events to investigate what is going on. His arrival in the film kicks off the main plot, some 30 minutes in. The lengthy setup establishes a thick atmosphere of dread and includes some great horror imagery and gore. However, Ellis can't seem to give us a reason to care about these characters. The central mystery is compelling but who should we be rooting for when the townspeople are so awful and John isn't a well-developed character. Horror needs more than graphic gore and creative scares to be effective, it needs an emotional dimension.
This missing element is a shame because so much of The Cursed is excellent. The film looks stunning thanks to Ellis' cinematography, Madeline Fontaine's costume design, and Pascal Le Guellec's intricate and visually stunning set design. The acting is all around very good as well. Holbrook is very compelling here in the lead role and Petrie is convincingly evil while believing he is just in his actions. The film lacks a clear theme. For as clever as the werewolf design is here, the metaphor behind it is unclear. Racism and class disparity are touched upon here with the film's plot but these ideas are never connected to the lore behind the curse.
Gorgeous to look at, with some great practical gore, The Cursed will please many genre fans. It is often thrilling and rich with atmosphere. One just wishes the film had more depth to it, something to take with you when all of the bloodshed has ended.