★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Sean Ellis
Roma curses! Vicious, shape-shifting monsters! Captivating gothic imagery! Period-piece horror feature The Cursed has all this and much more, resulting in one of the best fear-fare efforts of the year.
The Cursed (AKA Eight for Silver) is, quite simply, one of the best period-piece horror films in recent memory and one of the best fright-fare outings of this year. Writer/director Sean Ellis serves up a sprawling and ambitious creature feature filled with new spins on beloved classic horror elements, and his film — for which he also did the cinematography — is loaded with gorgeous gothic imagery.
In 19th century France, a Roma clan has a claim to property that happens to be on what wealthy landowner Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) calls his home and property. He hires a group of mercenaries to wipe out the Roma caravan, unleashing a curse that will affect his family and those who work for him.
The children of the area begin having nightmares that draw them in their waking lives to unearth a set of silver-forged beast-like teeth, and when one of the group bites Laurent’s young son, the boy runs from his home at night and into the nearby forest — and vicious, animal-like attacks begin. A pathologist named John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives, and without giving away too much, he has a personal interest in the goings-on with the disputed Roma/Laurent property.
Sprawling and ambitious, The Cursed is an absolutely stunning work, with plenty of chills occurring in broad daylight and those at night looking wonderfully torchlit. Ellis shows an expert hand at balancing horror and drama, creating suspenseful conflict and delivering the gory goods with terrific looking practical and CGI effects. He also drops in visual references to, or at least recalls from, other horror movies from Halloween to John Carpenter’s version of The Thing to Cronenbergian body horror. Ellis is aided by remarkable performances from a top-notch cast that also includes Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake; Eli) as Laurent’s wife Isabelle, Ameila Crouch as their daughter Charlotte, and Max Mackintosh as their afflicted son Edward.
This is indeed a creature feature, a werewolf one at that, but Ellis riffs on traditional cinematic lycanthrope tropes rather than remaining slavish to them. The result is a highly recommended monster movie outing that takes its subject matter seriously and looks beautiful doing so.