Gothic horror ‘The Cursed’ suffers from weak pacing, scares

Noah Levine, Life & Arts Film Columnist

“The Cursed,” formerly titled “Eight for Silver” for its Sundance Film Festival screenings, is a new gothic horror from writer and director Sean Ellis. Boyd Holbrook, best known for his role in the 2017 film “Logan,” stars as John McBride, a pathologist in 19th-century France who is tasked with solving the mystery of a missing child and a string of ghastly “animal” attacks plaguing a community. 

After years in the shadows since the release of popular hits, such as “An American Werewolf in London” and “The Howling,” “The Cursed” attempts to resurrect the werewolf subgenre with a more nuanced approach. Laying hints throughout the plot, the film gives only brief glimpses at its potential lycanthrope antagonist. The gothic setting serves as a visually interesting backdrop to what would otherwise be a typical whodunit werewolf story. 

In terms of actual scares, “The Cursed” has all the bones for an effective horror romp. Unfortunately, lackluster, poorly crafted scare sequences diminish the true horror of the film’s gross-out special effects and creature design. Several haunting scenarios involving an eerie scarecrow are repeatedly undercut by revelations that they are just the main characters’ “nightmares.” When audiences realize these scares aren’t actually happening in the physical world of the narrative, it completely dampens the effect. 

Shoddy editing and a strange shaky camera effect used on almost every tense moment completely undermine the “werewolf” attacks. The score does a surprisingly weak job at emphasizing the intensity of these vicious scenarios.

For a film with a possessed scarecrow and menacing werewolf creature, “The Cursed” somehow manages to be frustratingly boring. The opening of the film reveals its main secret to the audience, thus deflating all intrigue and mystery. Nevertheless, the protagonists spend the entire film seeking to uncover what we already know. While the plot and concept remain quite interesting, pacing and poor organization damage the watching experience.

If there’s one consistently effective element of “The Cursed,” it’s certainly the production design and special effects work. The film’s team captured the haunting ambience of 19th-century France through gloomy landscapes, torchlit homes and ominous corn fields. Many of the gross sequences feature stunning practical effects work which would make horror icon John Carpenter proud. One particular instance, which sports extremely repulsive body horror, will surely make die-hard genre fans grin with ghoulish delight. 

While “The Cursed” begins to find some sense of its tense identity in its third act, the sluggish ineffectiveness of its first two takes the wind right out of its sails. 

2.5 silver bullets out of 5