What’s there left to do with a werewolf movie? The Cursed opens locally this weekend, and while I applaud its efforts to do something different, it winds up being another horror film that’s long on mood and short on payoff.
The main story takes place in rural France in the 1880s. When a land baron named Laurent (Alistair Petrie) becomes aware of a clan of Roma squatting on his land and laying claim to it, he orders his men to massacre the Gypsies and burn their encampment. The matriarch (Pascale Becouze) curses the land with her dying breath, and the malediction doesn’t take long to kick in. An older boy from the village named Timmy (Tommy Rodger) digs up a set of silver wolf teeth near the massacre site, becomes possessed, and bites Laurent’s young son Edward (Max Montgomery) with it. Edward runs off and goes missing, although Timmy is later found torn to pieces by a wild animal. A big-city pathologist named McBride (Boyd Holbrook) happens to be passing through town and offers to stay on and help catch the creature.
McBride suspects this is no ordinary wolf because of his prior experience dealing with the Beast of Gévaudan, and given that that creature of legend was reported in the 1760s, he must be much older than he looks. It’s just one of many storytelling errors by writer-director Sean Ellis, who previously made the fitfully inspired World War II thriller Anthropoid. He crafts an effective scene early on when the werewolf attacks three peasants who are working in the fields — the farmers take extensive precautions to protect one another, to no avail. He makes good use of strange noises in the countryside and even better use of them in the manor, where Laurent and his wife (Kelly Reilly) can be heard screaming and throwing things at each other.
Yet the framing story taking place during World War I makes no sense, and all logic disintegrates during the movie’s final third. The film was shot in the Cognac region of France before the pandemic, and the location doesn’t add anything the way the streets of Prague set the scene for Anthropoid. Edward’s older sister Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) has hardly anything to do in the story, and when McBride suspects that a housemaid (Roxane Duran) has been turned into a werewolf, he promptly forgets about it while she’s in the house.
It’s a disservice to Holbrook, the versatile 40-year-old from Kentucky whom you likely remember as the oily Southern mutant hunter in Logan. The first time I noticed him was as an Australian scuba instructor in The Skeleton Twins, which fooled me into thinking he was actually from Down Under. He works with a British accent here (to match the rest of the cast) and gives off a different vibe as an urbane intellectual who’s seasoned enough to set traps for his prey in the village and then calmly wait for the animal to show up. Holbrook often improves the stuff he’s in, and he gives The Cursed an authority that the rest of the film could use.
Starring Boyd Holbrook and Kelly Reilly. Written and directed by Sean Ellis. Rated R.