By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Written and directed by David Freyne
Mea culpa for not previously giving big critical respect to THE CURED, which is further proof that a much-traveled avenue of horror can still find fresh territory when a smart filmmaker is involved. Opening in a number of additional cities today (see list below), it’s a complex and intensely dramatic take on the zombie/infected genre, and a movie to be sought out and savored on the big screen.
After so many cinematic explorations of how rage plagues overtake their victims, first-time feature writer/director David Freyne’s simple but resonant conceit is to dramatize what happens at the other end. As his film opens, the “Maze Virus” has devastated Ireland, but a cure has been found with a 75 percent success rate of restoring the temporary bloodthirsty maniacs back to their normal selves. We’re not told how long their overall rampage lasted, though we do learn that Senan (Sam Keeley) was infected for four years, and he’s about to leave quarantine as part of a third wave of “the cured” returning to society. Trouble is, the first two have not been greeted with open arms by the surviving populace, who rail against them on the radio and violently protest their release in person. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cured retain haunting and emotionally debilitating memories of the atrocities they committed under the virus’ influence.
That’s already a solid foundation for a horror-drama, and Freyne works in additional personal elements of Senan’s story that raise the stakes. He moves in with his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page), a news videographer anxious to cover the cured controversy while her boss would prefer her to shoot the first McDonalds to reopen. Senan himself gets a job assisting Dr. Joan Lyons (Paula Malcomson), who is working on a way to get the 25 percent resistant to the cure back to normal. At the same time, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a friend Senan made during his treatment, has found his attempts to reintegrate into the world thwarted (once a barrister with a promising political career, he can only find menial work and is rejected by his own father), leading him to join a group of cured activists rebelling against the populace who reject them and callous government/military officials who oppress them.
Freyne puts a lot on his plate in this full-course meal of a movie, consistently revealing new facets of the world he has created and the infection that has decimated it, and additional levels of drama in the relationships between the people struggling through it. These range from the physical details (like WWII-style signage and propaganda posters scattered throughout Conor Dennison’s meticulous production design) to revelations about the key characters, particularly a horrible secret shared by Senan and Conor. So many zombie/infected films place their protagonists in a situation and run in place with it that it’s exciting to find one that keeps unfolding in new directions.
Not to mention that THE CURED also develops into a potent analogy for both past and current events. There are a few different potential allegorical readings here, from the real-life Troubles in Ireland to the exclusionism creeping through the U.S. Freyne’s achievement is that the metaphors never overtake or overwhelm the specific story he’s telling; the suspense derives as much from the threat of the contagion and those afflicted as it does from the way the tentacles of prejudice can reach everywhere and grasp everyone.
Freyne elicits strong, invested performances from his cast, and maintains a consistent mood of unease with the help of cinematographer Piers McGrail and composers Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy. Though THE CURED was modestly budgeted, its overall environment and bigger-scale setpieces are never less than thoroughly convincing, and while it makes a turn into the genre’s traditional mayhem in its final act, this transition proceeds naturally and logically from what has gone before, and Freyne never loses sight of the critical personal conflicts at the movie’s center. Even given the climactic outbursts of action, THE CURED is more concerned with personal terrors than George A. Romero-level gut-spilling, while embracing a sociopolicital context that Romero would likely have been proud of.
Theaters opening the film today are:
- Midtown Art Cinemas 8, Atlanta, GA
- Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline 10, Austin, TX
- Reel Theatre 6 at Country Club Plaza, Boise, ID
- Boedecker Theater—Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder, CO
- Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA
- Tower City Cinemas, Cleveland, OH
- Gateway Film Center, Columbus, OH
- Mayan Theatre, Denver, CO
- Alamo Drafthouse Cinema—Montecillo, El Paso, TX
- Celebration Cinema Woodland 14, Grand Rapids, MI
- Red Cinemas Midtown Stadium 15, Greensboro, NC
- Palace 17, Hartford, CT
- Screenland Crossroads, Kansas City, MO
- Alamo Drafthouse Cinema—Lubbock, Lubbock, TX
- Atlas Diamond Centre Cinemas 16, Mentor, OH
- OSIO Plaza Cinema, Monterey, CA
- Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA
- Alamo Drafthouse La Vista (Omaha), Omaha, NE
- PFS Theater at the Roxy, Philadelphia, PA
- The Flying Monkey (fka Plymouth Twin), Plymouth, NH
- Cinema Salem 3, Salem, MA
- Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City, UT
- 4 Star Theatre, San Francisco, CA
- Jean Cocteau Cinema, Santa Fe, NM
- Valley Art, Tempe, AZ
- Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Winchester, Winchester, VA