Film Review: The Cured

Post-zombie-outbreak horror flick is strong on atmosphere, weak on plot and character.
Specialty Releases

Filmmakers intent on staking out fresh territory in the hard-trampled land of zombie horror have their bloody work cut out for them. For the bleak thriller The Cured, writer-director David Freyne has taken the approach of introducing a zombie virus and its cure, offering an intriguing spin on the post-apocalyptic narrative by focusing on ex-zombies haunted by horrific recollections of the atrocities they committed while in the throes of a murderous frenzy.

The MAZE virus causes psychotic contagion that manifests as a zombie-like appetite for flesh, and it spread quickly across Europe, although, for reasons not adequately explained in the movie’s opening scroll, the virus ultimately was contained everywhere but Ireland, which was devastated. The cure has been effective for only 75% of the infected, including Irishmen Senan (Sam Keeley) and Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who are among the once-zombies, now cured, attempting to re-enter society after a lengthy period of treatment in quarantine.

Far from being welcomed back to their homes and neighborhoods with cheers and parades, the formerly infected are scorned as the monsters who previously had attacked and killed their neighbors and, in some cases, their own family. Riding back onto their block in a military transport, Senan and Conor are met with outright hatred and prejudice. Senan goes to live with his sister-in-law Abigail (Ellen Page) and her son Cillian (Oscar Nolan), taking a pre-assigned job at the treatment center where he was cured, assisting in the care of still-zombified patients among the 25% who don’t respond to the drugs.

Plagued by flashbacks to the pre-cure chaos, Senan resists pressure from Conor to join their ostracized brethren in the Cured Alliance, a radical support group that fights back against anti-cured hatred. The Alliance’s cause grows even more urgent as the Ireland Defense Forces commence “the humane elimination” of the drug-resistant 25% still being held in treatment centers. Enacting a strategy of bombings and attacks, the Alliance goes on the offensive against the IDF, seeking to save the still-infected from the systematic eliminations. But under Conor’s livewire leadership, the organization might easily be mistaken for terrorists rather than noble crusaders.

The film’s allegory, linking the MAZE-infected population with other real-life stigmatized infected populations, strikes a tense chord that resonates with humans’ elemental fear of sickness and contagion. And Freyne evokes within that context a vivid postwar environment of UN Peacekeeper patrols and traumatized citizens, boldly referencing Ireland’s tumultuous history of bombings and civil unrest.

The whole milieu is imaginatively detailed, but the plot just lumbers forward zombie-like, clouded by a despairing mood that weighs down heavily and never lifts. While Keeley captures Senan’s sense of guilt and dislocation, neither he nor the script provide the character much forward momentum or, crucially, charm. Between the attack scenes—repetitively executed with jump scares of infected killers lunging, roaring, into frame—the film attempts to create suspense around a secret between Senan and Conor that would change everything for Abigail. Unfortunately, Keeley’s and Page’s differing shades of post-traumatic numbness don’t coalesce into exciting chemistry, leading to some dull dramatic moments for Senan and Abbie between zombie flashbacks and Cured Alliance meetings.

Vaughan-Lawlor makes a crackling, complicated character of Conor at the start, but even he becomes tedious, as overbearing as the insistent synth score. The film’s sleepy second act eventually gives way to a savage, chaotic finale, with some decent fights and foot chases, that doesn’t truly compensate for the general listlessness and relentlessly downbeat ambience.

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