Directed by: David Freyne
Starring: Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Paula Malcolmson
From Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley’s classical covert probing at immigration and science-vs-morality, to the relatively recent ruminations of George Romero on PTSD and mass-consumerism, it’s certainly the case that in a crowded entertainment marketplace, the presence of a terrifying monster alone will not be enough.
While contemporary horror cinema itself is vast and varied, creatives must choose their projects wisely if they’re to stand a chance of being heard above the tumult. Luckily, this is a lesson already learned by writer/director David Freyne who, after cutting his teeth on a series of short films, brings his feature-length debut to our screens in the form of The Cured.
Taking place in near-future Ireland, the country (indeed the world) is coming to terms with the aftermath of the Maze Virus, a bite-transmitted pandemic which turns its victims into crazed, animalistic killers. Scientists eventually create an antidote, which returns 75% of subjects to their former selves – but leaves them with clear memories of their horrific actions during infection. And while those successfully reverted to their ‘human’ state can attempt to go back to their old lives, the question remains of how best to treat those resistant to the formula.
To complicate matters further, many non-infected, surviving members of the public are resistant to the idea of an army of murderers being introduced back into society. Protests take place outside treatment centres, and those released find themselves ostracised from their previous communities. So it’s not surprising when some of the persecuted begin to formulate a reaction against this prejudice.
Ellen Page plays Abbie, a journalist raising a young son while turning out regional-TV fare, who agrees to take in her cured brother-in-law Senan (Sam Keeley) after losing her husband during the outbreak. Senan, still struggling to come to terms with his involuntary behaviour, is also distracted by fellow ex-patient Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), whose cynicism at the authorities outweighs the guilt over his past. When Abbie uncovers a plot to disrupt the reintegration of the cured it becomes apparent that for some, the virus was just an excuse to unleash their inner beast, and the worst excesses of the story’s antagonists are very much human foibles…
It feels slightly disingenuous to call this ‘a zombie movie’, since its monsters aren’t technically by-the-book zombies. But the hyper violent, not-quite-dead, psychopath virus victim is an archetype we’re seeing more and more within the genre, so perhaps a new term is needed. While Freyne utilizes the transmission-method of the infection in classic style, the attacks themselves are less plot-critical, and just used as the narrative method to decide who becomes infected and who becomes lunch (not dissimilar to vampire-fiction in that regard).
But, as noted, this isn’t a film about zombies. The larger backdrop touches upon social discrimination, the rehabilitation of criminals, refugees, activism, civic unrest, domestic terrorism and genocide. It’s about how society reacts collectively in a crisis which, in 2018, feels relevant to the point of foreboding prescience. But at its emotional core, The Cured is a study of the complex triangular relationship which emerges between Abbie, Senan and Conor, and the strains put on each by their interlinking past. It’s pretty bleak stuff, albeit in a great way.
The central cast trio are on blistering form, each picked perfectly for their role. Ellen Page brings a stoic, reflective presence to the proceedings, trying to build the best life she can, while knowing that she’s ultimately trapped. It’s a shame that if anything, Abbie’s character seems to get left behind as the events of the screenplay overtake her. Sam Keeley looks both haunted and panicked simultaneously, a man not even sure if he deserves a second chance, never mind what he hopes to achieve by being given one. And driving the tension is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Conor, grimly nihilistic and demonstrating single-handedly that curing the virus won’t fix what was wrong before it took hold.
Cinematographer Piers McGrail decreases saturation of colour in equal proportion to the sense of optimism (assisted by the red-brick terraces and overcast skies), and his hand-held cameras bring a sense of intimacy or panic, depending on the requirements of the scene. Similarly, Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy’s score is brooding and ponderous without feeling at all intrusive, all the more effective for the stretches in which it’s not used; indoor exchanges where the brittle script serves to puncture silent air, both vibrating with tension.
Among the even distribution of exposition, conversation and outright frenzy, Freyne drops some masterful jump-scares, although as the run-time progresses, these go from being genuinely jarring to the more mainstream quiet/quiet/bang variety. And by the third-act, after relentlessly escalating the tension, our storyteller can resist the lure of outright carnage no longer, giving in to the same crimson urges as his ravenous hordes. Then again, it would be an odd movie which builds toward this climax and then doesn’t deliver.
For a first feature, The Cured is an outstanding work, although the claustrophobic suburban landscapes and indie-sensibilities might work more against the title’s individuality than for it, even with Ellen Page’s name on the front (although the fact that the actress is also one of the producers is an encouraging sign of commitment).
David Freyne has chosen his cinematic battle – and weapons – wisely, but will that be enough in the long-run? With such a short theatrical release-window, Tilted Pictures and IFC Films are clearly hoping that the director’s work will find its audience with the DVD/digital release. Your humble correspondent shares that hope, as The Cured deserves to be seen by fans of film and film-making alike…
The Cured is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th May 2018, and will be available on DVD/digital from Monday the 14th. Be sure to check back after watching and let us know your thoughts!