a critiQal film review Cursed (2005)

Plot: Ellie (Ricci) and her brother Jimmy (Eisenberg) have their lives changed forever when, after witnessing a beast attack that leaves a woman ripped in half, they discover they have the curse of the werewolf. Now they only have one chance - to break the curse they must behead the werewolf who scratched them. The only problem? They have no idea who that is.

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  • ...the film just can't seem to decided whether it's a horror flick or a spoof of one.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see that a movie is directed by Wes Craven. I know, it’s either Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) films, or the Scream (1996) films (or maybe the old school People Under the Stairs), right? Same here. So when I saw that Cursed was directed by Wes Craven, I immediately wanted to check it out.

Come to find out, it’s written by Kevin Williamson, who also wrote Scream (1996)! What could be better? They did such box office magic last time around with their off-kilter horror-comedy trilogy, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one waiting to see what would happen if they got together again. So, the first time it was available from our local [blockbuster, we snatched up a copy, waited until it got dark, and checked out Cursed.

Christina Ricci has always been a little bit, shall we say, off-kilter. With that unearthly white skin, she’s always seemed a shoo-in for a horror flick, but she never quite got there (the closest was the Addams Family films awhile back – and those were supposed to be comedies, no matter how horrific they turned out). She usually tans up a bit (most likely fake tanning) to play more “meaningful” roles (such as the sidekick in Monster (2003)), but she always seemed to be a horror queen waiting to happen. Now that she’s finally picked a horror flick with Cursed, however, that thought seems to have gone out the window. She seems too uncomfortable, never really being able to convince the viewer of her character’s motives, etc.

She pales (literally) next to her co-star, Jesse Eisenberg, who tends to bring most of the comic relief to Cursed. He really manages to convey his transformation without needing even that much screen time. He’s the one really pulling the viewers into the film, and his lines are delivered with a zeal that’s fun to watch.

A few other characters, in the form of Joshua Jackson, 80’s fave Scott Baio, Shannon Elizabeth, Mya and even Craig Killborn pop up as well, but don’t have the same depth given to them in Cursed that Eisenberg receives.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that Kevin Williamson tends to favor the comic relief source of his films. After all, who’s the character viewers remember most from Scream (1996)? Not the cop or the reporter or the main character – nope, it’s the sidekick with all the “rules to horror movies”, right? This comic relief character tends to be Kevin Williamson’s best written, and that doesn’t change in Cursed. It’s too bad he couldn’t have spent as much time on the feel of the film as he obviously did on that character.

Then again, maybe it isn’t Kevin’s fault – maybe it’s Wes. The last movies they did together kick-started a massive horror spoof craze (with the Scary Movie series doing their best to milk it for all it’s worth). So, maybe with Cursed Wes thought Kevin was trying to write another tongue-in-cheek horror spoof, so directed it that way.

These obviously mixed signals between the two creates an oddball of a film, trying to keep viewers in suspense while at the same time keeping them laughing with some of the craziness happening on-screen. This worked well for Scream (1996) (although the sequels tended to lean more towards actual horror than the massive spoofing of the first), but sadly it doesn’t work in Cursed. The audience is left confused, not sure how seriously to take the events on-screen. This dichotomy really detracts from the film, keeping the audience at an arm’s length for the entire film.

The special effects of Cursed again keep doubling over the border of horror into spoof and back again. The werewolf effects are impressive in small doses, but the overall picture is almost comical. Some special effects scenes seem almost to be playing for laughs, such as the dog-wolf sequence that takes place about halfway through the film. It’s silly, forced, and very comical, yet the actors on screen try to make it look like it’s supposed to be frightening (again, that dichotomy raises it’s ugly head).

Then, of course, there’s the full on-screen transformation into werewolf, and that just seems to be something straight out of a comic book – it’s exaggerated (see the big muscles inflating like balloons on the arm!), and entirely unrealistic. Wes Craven obviously knows by now that the more you leave up to the viewer’s imagination, the scarier the movie will be. So why put the transformation in Cursed out there in plain view, in almost direct light? What special effects could live up to what people have in their imagination? None. So what were you thinking, Wes?

Cursed ends up trying to be the next Scream (1996), and fails miserably. It would have been decent as a horror flick, it would have been okay as a flat-out spoof, but this in-between (sporror? horroof?) just doesn’t work. The confusion of the film translates directly to the audience, who will finish the movie waiting for the next big laugh, rather than feeling a little nervous in their darkened home.

Whether it was intentional or just a signals mix-up, Cursed leaves the viewer feeling a bit cursed themselves – by a movie that can’t decide if it’s a horror or a comedy.

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