A surface level assessment of The Cured would lead any potential viewer to believer that it is just another zombie movie. Just another entry in a genre that has gone stale after seeing a meteoric rebirth in the early 2000s. Just another low-budget riff on a style that that has been explored to death. Yes, here in 2018, the undead are dead once again, and even the least discerning viewers would be forgiven to let new entries in the genre pass them by. I do it all the time, and I usually find out later that it was the right move. Frankly, until The Cured rolled up on my queue, I was confident that no new ground could be covered. What can you show me in the world of zombies that I haven’t already seen?
Well here I am, utterly gobsmacked by just how much juice is left in the concept. Actually, even that seems like a limiting statement. I’m totally being the “I listen to anything but country and rap” guy. I hate that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. The fact of the matter is I love horror in all shapes and sizes, and regardless of whether the zombie sub-genre seems to be tired or overcooked, all it takes is the right idea and great execution to make anything feel fresh again. Writer/director David Freyne has not just reinvigorated the genre, but has employed it to explore society’s ills at a level not seen since the heyday of George Romero. It’s that good.
The Cured leans a bit on the imagery of 28 Days Later to set things up. At present, Ireland is recovering from a multi-year breakout of the ‘Maze’ virus. Functionally identical to the rage virus in 28 Days Later, those affected succumb to an insatiable bloodlust. Be it full on consumption of their victims or merely ripping healthy flesh to shreds, few survive an attack, and those who do are infected with the virus as well. But during the years of the crisis, an injection was developed which has been successful in curing 75% of those affected. But here’s the catch: those who have been cured can remember everything they did while under sway of the virus. The government is releasing the cured back into society in waves, while the remaining 25% remain in lockup, awaiting an uncertain fate. Naturally, a repatriation of the cured is a difficult task. Many are not mentally ready to cope with their sins, as blameless as they may be in committing them, and those members of society who were never infected are understandably resistant to the idea of having cured people back on the streets.
Many social ideas are explored and commented on here, but it all comes down to two universal themes. First and foremost The Cured is an examination of class warfare. In the era of Trump, fake news, and the monetization of a class divide, the uneven distribution of power is something that is highlighted not just in America, but worldwide. The abuse of power is a concept as universally understandable as it is old. Despite coming from an Irish filmmaker, The Cured very clearly speaks to a multitude of injustices we see here in America. The second theme being examined is one of forgiveness. Is it possible to forgive the person who ate your mom even if they did so while under the spell of the Maze virus? Well there no easy answers, and The Cured is not interested in providing them — only in making the viewer look inward to ask these questions of themselves.
This is perhaps the most thematically dense zombie flick I’ve ever seen, and while Romero is certainly responsible for showing the world that the undead can be used to turn the lens on humanity in potent and gruesome ways, Freyne’s film pulls the lens wider than that, not just focusing on those who inhabit society, but on society itself. I am amazed at how many threads are pulled to serve so many clever commentaries. Most notably is the way that Freyne motivates his characters. Even the most villainous of the lot can at least be understood if not agreed with. And even when a good/bad line is drawn in the sand, it’s a relatively blameless affair. At a time when we are beginning to understand and discuss the way power structures can dictate behavior, it’s worthwhile to reckon such things with entertainment (at this time last year, Get Out was doing something similar).
Even if one were to divorce themselves from the social commentary, The Cured functions beautifully as an entertainment. At times it’s a political thriller dressed up in horror clothing, while at others, it’s a family drama about love, loss, and regret. There’s even a point where it functions as a “race to find a cure” clinical talkie. Not one of these shifts in tone feel underwritten or out of place, and at 95 minutes there’s really no room for narrative fat.
I’m trying my best not to be too vague, but unfortunately, I feel that the bulk of this movie’s pleasures are meant to be uncovered in real time. As the layers of thematic density unfold and reveal themselves, active audience members will likely experience joy similar to my own in discovering just how much is going on at any moment.
The biggest name on the marquee is Ellen Page. Sho plays Abbie, a woman whose husband perished in the outbreak, leaving her alone with their child. She welcomes her recently cured brother in law Senan (Sam Keeley) into her home while he attempts to rebuild his life. Both Page and Keeley capture the tension inherent to their situation while also exhibiting the love required to make such an arrangement work. There’s just something in Page’s look that allows her to embody the “tough mom” character in a way that doesn’t feel forced or stereotypical. Keeley and the other members of the cured share a specific look. Those who have been rid of the infection share a depleted look, like that of folks living on society’s fringes here in the real world. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, whose Conor was successfully seeking political office prior to being infected in the outbreak, but is now relegated to a cleaning job he sees as below his station. The transformation exhibited in the comparison between his campaign posters and his current state is stark and effective. It makes one wonder what the man asking for change on the corner looked like in another, kinder life.
And when the movie calls for some typical zombie action, it delivers. There are just as many moments of contemplative disconcertment as there’s are all-out carnage, and to see such a thing makes me happy to be a movie fan.
The current cinematic climate — one in which both Get Out and The Shape of Water are nominated for Best Picture Oscars — is one which is shedding the archaic notion that horror movies are low class, and The Cured is a deserving and welcome international entry into this movement. One look at the trailer would cause many to dismiss this as something old, but I implore you not to miss it. This is something new.
The Cured opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.