Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Review: The Cured

This post originally appeared at SetTheTape.com

The Cured
Cert: 15 / 95 mins / Dir. David Freyne / Trailer

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a horror story in possession of a good villain, must be in want of a subtext…

From Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley’s classical covert probing at immigration and science-vs-morality, to the relatively recent ruminations of George Romero on PTSD and mass-consumerism, it’s certainly the case that in a crowded entertainment marketplace, the presence of a terrifying monster alone will not be enough.

While contemporary horror cinema itself is vast and varied, creatives must choose their projects wisely if they’re to stand a chance of being heard above the tumult. Luckily, this is a lesson already learned by writer/director David Freyne who, after cutting his teeth on a series of short films, brings his feature-length debut to our screens in the form of The Cured.

Taking place in near-future Ireland, the country (indeed the world) is coming to terms with the aftermath of the Maze Virus, a bite-transmitted pandemic which turns its victims into crazed, animalistic killers. Scientists eventually create an antidote, which returns 75% of subjects to their former selves – but leaves them with clear memories of their horrific actions during infection. And while those successfully reverted to their 'human' state can attempt to go back to their old lives, the question remains of how best to treat those resistant to the formula.

To complicate matters further, many non-infected, surviving members of the public are resistant to the idea of an army of murderers being introduced back into society. Protests take place outside treatment centres, and those released find themselves ostracised from their previous communities. So it’s not surprising when some of the persecuted begin to formulate a reaction against this prejudice.

Ellen Page plays Abbie, a journalist raising a young son while turning out regional-TV fare, who agrees to take in her cured brother-in-law Senan (Sam Keeley) after losing her husband during the outbreak. Senan, still struggling to come to terms with his involuntary behaviour, is also distracted by fellow ex-patient Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), whose cynicism at the authorities outweighs the guilt over his past. When Abbie uncovers a plot to disrupt the reintegration of the cured it becomes apparent that for some, the virus was just an excuse to unleash their inner beast, and the worst excesses of the story’s antagonists are very much human foibles…

It feels slightly disingenuous to call this ‘a zombie movie’, since its monsters aren’t technically by-the-book zombies. But the hyper violent, not-quite-dead, psychopath virus victim is an archetype we’re seeing more and more within the genre, so perhaps a new term is needed. While Freyne utilizes the transmission-method of the infection in classic style, the attacks themselves are less plot-critical, and just used as the narrative method to decide who becomes infected and who becomes lunch (not dissimilar to vampire-fiction in that regard).

But, as noted, this isn’t a film about zombies. The larger backdrop touches upon social discrimination, the rehabilitation of criminals, refugees, activism, civic unrest, domestic terrorism and genocide. It’s about how society reacts collectively in a crisis which, in 2018, feels relevant to the point of foreboding prescience. But at its emotional core, The Cured is a study of the complex triangular relationship which emerges between Abbie, Senan and Conor, and the strains put on each by their interlinking past. It’s pretty bleak stuff, albeit in a great way.

The central cast trio are on blistering form, each picked perfectly for their role. Ellen Page brings a stoic, reflective presence to the proceedings, trying to build the best life she can, while knowing that she’s ultimately trapped. It's a shame that if anything, Abbie's character seems to get left behind as the events of the screenplay overtake her. Sam Keeley looks both haunted and panicked simultaneously, a man not even sure if he deserves a second chance, never mind what he hopes to achieve by being given one. And driving the tension is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Conor, grimly nihilistic and demonstrating single-handedly that curing the virus won’t fix what was wrong before it took hold.

Cinematographer Piers McGrail decreases saturation of colour in equal proportion to the sense of optimism (assisted by the red-brick terraces and overcast skies), and his hand-held cameras bring a sense of intimacy or panic, depending on the requirements of the scene. Similarly, Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy’s score is brooding and ponderous without feeling at all intrusive, all the more effective for the stretches in which it's not used; indoor exchanges where the brittle script serves to puncture silent air, both vibrating with tension.

Among the even distribution of exposition, conversation and outright frenzy, Freyne drops some masterful jump-scares*1, although as the run-time progresses, these go from being genuinely jarring to the more mainstream quiet/quiet/bang variety. And by the third-act, after relentlessly escalating the tension, our storyteller can resist the lure of outright carnage no longer, giving in to the same crimson urges as his ravenous hordes. Then again, it would be an odd movie which builds toward this climax and then doesn’t deliver.

For a first feature, The Cured is an outstanding work, although the claustrophobic suburban landscapes and indie-sensibilities might work more against the title’s individuality than for it, even with Ellen Page’s name on the front (although the fact that the actress is also one of the producers is an encouraging sign of commitment).

David Freyne has chosen his cinematic battle - and weapons – wisely, but will that be enough in the long-run? With such a short theatrical release-window, Tilted Pictures and IFC Films are clearly hoping that the director’s work will find its audience with the DVD/digital release. Your humble correspondent shares that hope, as The Cured deserves to be seen by fans of film and film-making alike…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
28 Days Later, The Girl With All The Gifts.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
That time has unfortunately passed (very limited theatrical release on this one).

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it first and see how you get on, but for genre-fans this will be a keeper.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That remains to be seen, but it's a high watermark.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely, but the discussion itself should be intriguing.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Ellen Page is in this, and she was in the rebooted Flatliners alongside Diego 'Andor' Luna.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although these were ably assisted by the Soho Screening Rooms' apparent tendency to set the auditorium's default volume to Eleventy-Stupid™ - fantastic for appreciating the sound-design in acts one and two; completely overpowering in the third…
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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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