When it comes to successful horror films, the number one factor is mood. If filmmakers hope to engage their viewers and have them on the edge of their seats throughout, they need to set the mood early. Without that crucial element, a horror film becomes much less compelling and, consequently, less watchable.
That’s the fate that befalls The Cursed, a type of werewolf movie that spends too much time on setting one kind of mood when it should have been focused on another. Set in the late 19th century, it centers on an aristocratic family who, after gypsies lay claim to their land, violently eject the group off their property. However, just before being attacked, two of the gypsies conjure a curse involving attaching liquid silver to a skull’s jaw.
The aristocrats, who do unspeakable things to those two gypsies, are soon cursed by those silver teeth, with everyone in the general vicinity dreaming about them. Soon, someone is transformed into a kind of hairless, slimy werewolf by the teeth, with nearly everyone in the area in danger of being attacked as well.
Written and directed by Sean Ellis, the film has difficulty establishing any kind of suspense. Ellis cares way too much about setting up the bona fides of the aristocracy in the film than about making sure the threat that’s about to take a lot of them out is credible. Nearly every attack is telegraphed so much that any dread about impending violence is rendered null and void.
Ellis also doesn’t do a great job getting the audience invested in his characters. Early on, he jumps from character to character so quickly that it’s difficult to know who the main protagonist is, something he never actually settles on. Boyd Holbrook plays John McBride, a pathologist who comes to help the family, but how exactly he can help isn’t clear until the plot has progressed too far for anyone to care.
Then there are the smaller details that a better filmmaker would have nailed down. For example, if you go to the film’s IMDb page, it will tell you it’s set in rural 19th century France. However, everyone in the film speaks with posh British accents, and with names like Charlotte, Edward, and John, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were anywhere but England.
The actors do their level best, although the way the film is staged, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing what role. Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, and perennial bad guy Alistair Petrie are the biggest names in the cast, and they play their scenes effectively. But they and the other actors are not showcased all that well, and so their performances wind up mattering little.
The best that can be said about The Cursed is that at least Ellis chose to show his monster instead of keeping it hidden away. Overall, though, the film is very moody with little payoff, a story that — unlike its monster — has little bite.
The Cursed opens in theaters on February 18.