David Freyne’s debut feature The Cured was a big hit on the festival circuit last year with an expected release date of early 2018. Eager fans have been frantically looking for the new zombie movie on VOD only to come up short. After a long, unexplained delay The Cured was finally released. But was it worth the wait?
Ireland. Present day. Zombies aren’t just a thing in movies anymore. They are very much a reality, but with some minor differences. There’s been a mysterious outbreak of something called “The MAZE Virus,” which turns the infected into rage-filled flesh eaters. But that’s not where our story lies. The action here begins some time later, when scientists have already discovered a cure.
The cure only succeeds in getting rid of the active virus however, and those newly reformed are left with the traumatic memories of everything and everyone they destroyed while in the virus’ sturdy grasp. And if that wasn’t enough to grapple with, there’s the added tension of the citizens who refuse to forgive and forget their actions.
Not helping matters is the fact that the cure only works on a reported 75% of those infected. The remaining 25% are being kept quarantined underground by the government, while they decide whether to keep trialing new cures, or just to put them all out of their misery.
Among the 75% is Senan (Sam Keeley), wracked with guilt over those he killed, who is now being taken in by his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page), whose late husband was killed by one of the infected during the outbreak, and her young son. And so begins the re-assimilation process, which proves to be about as difficult as you might expect.
“What if zombies were real?” is a question that’s already been explored to great effect in 28 Days Later (2002), which took the similar viral-explanation route. What also made that film so innovative for the genre was director Danny Boyle’s decision to nix the notion that zombies had to be slow, lumbering idiots. But aside from that, there was little focus on the humanity of the situation. Sure, there was some, but not much. And that’s a deficit that The Cured subverts, for better and for worse.
It’s quite nice to have a little extra care given to character dynamics, especially ones this layered. Doing so adds an often needed dose of realism to a decidedly un-real premise. There’s a tragic tinge one feels seeing Senan, quiet and withdrawn, attempting to atone for his indiscretions and prove himself worthy of the acceptance he so desperately craves. And Sam Keeley really sells the internal struggle with his delicate performance in stark contrast to the hissing creature he’s shown as in flashbacks. Whereas Ellen Page as Abbie turns in a performance that oscillates between really touching and a little boring. In her defense, she isn’t given much to do in the first act, but one can’t help but wonder what another actress could have brought to the role.
To be clear, she does have one or two moments of greatness later in the film; a confrontation with Senan stands out in particular, where she more than capably sells the simultaneous hurt and anger she’s feeling in the moment. I just wish she could have brought more of that energy to the earlier scenes.
Which brings me to the film’s main shortcoming. While we do get some nice moments of emotional complexity, the problem with the film’s humanistic approach is that it’s just not all that intriguing. Reading a synopsis or a review would likely pique one’s interest, as it did mine. But when you watch the film itself, you realize that it’s pretty much exactly what you had expected. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table after that. What I pictured when I read about it is exactly what I got, and it left me underwhelmed. There’s a poignant (if thinly veiled) metaphor for addiction that provoked some thought, but at the end my one-word reaction to the whole thing was a flat “okay.”
Writer/Director David Freyne does show some promise however. There’s a nice sense of world-building in the set design, with a standout being a scene where Senan is riding his bike and you can see flashes of anti-cured graffiti on the walls of passing buildings. And it’s not just some spray paint that says “cured=poop” or something, there’s an actual unofficial anti-cured symbol in the film – a ‘C‘ with a line through it – as seen on one of the film’s posters. I think it’s great that Freyne clearly put a little thought into the premise to make it different from your average zombie film. And he obviously has a nice sense of the world he’s trying to create, I just think that perhaps he needs another couple features under his belt before he’ll be able to convey ideas like this in a more resonant manner.
For a low-key night in, however, you could do a lot worse. There’s an inherent conversation-starting quality to the premise that would be interesting to explore with those close to you, and the performances are mostly affecting. Just don’t expect a genre game-changer.
The Cured is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms.