2/4, 2000s, Horror, Review, Wes Craven

Cursed

#11 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

“Hey, let’s make Scream again, except werewolves!” is what I imagine Kevin Williamson said to Wes Craven excitedly one day during a script meeting on Scream 3. It’s one of those ideas that feels fresh when you don’t think about it very much, but the more you do consider it, the more you realize that it’s just as derivative as Scream had become by its third entry. There needs to be more there beyond the concept, and the more seems to have been a season’s worth of storylines all shoved into one 95-minute film quite uncomfortably. That being said, it’s at least likeable enough to get through. A solid cast and some decently entertaining dialogue paper over enough of the frustrating elements that have been inelegantly ported over from Scream to keep the affair from being a complete slog.

Ellie (Christina Ricci) works as a low-level publicist in Hollywood whose boyfriend, Jake (Joshua Jackson), has a reputation for dating girls briefly before dropping them. She has to leave an event one night to take her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) home from the movies because he has no friends. On their way home, they find a wrecked car where a young woman is begging for her life before they are all attacked by a large doglike creature in the dark. Both Ellie and Jimmy get bitten while the girl dies. Jimmy is convinced that what attacked them is a werewolf.

Now, I think my biggest problem is that we have both Ellie and Jimmy working through their experiences of having been bitten by a werewolf and turning into one themselves. This movie is only about an hour and a half long, and largely because there are two characters with claim to the title of main character (Ricci may be on the poster, but Eisenberg has just about as much screentime) who both have their own little worlds that they inhabit with friends, enemies, and crushes, there’s no time to really settle into anything. On the one hand, we have Ellie managing her boyfriend, the other women who want her boyfriend (including her boss, Judy Greer’s Joanie), and her actual job that has something to do with promoting Scott Baio. On the other hand, you have Jimmy dealing with a bully at school (Milo Ventimiglia’s Bo), a crush (Kristina Anapau’s Brooke), and, thankfully, the movie treats Jimmy like a fake high school student instead of a real one. He never goes to class. That cleans things up a lot.

Actually, no, it doesn’t. Either this was supposed to be a more than two-hour long movie, or Kevin Williamson was just struggling to bring in his subplots to a manageable two-hour movie breadth (he’s written a whole lot more television than film), and Wes Craven just simply filmed what Williamson gave him. The film ends up so overstuffed with minor characters that hardly any of them make any kind of impression. The other problem is that the convention of slashers where a tight group of people gets picked off one by one makes some narrative sense. You get a handful of scenes to get your characters in front of the audience before they start getting ripped apart, so you streamline the storytelling in order to introduce as many as cleanly as possible. Splitting it out between two completely different friend/work/school groups is inefficient at best in such a short film.

Anyway, the two develop nascent werewolf powers. Ellie develops a taste for blood that she has trouble controlling, and Jimmy becomes a wunderkind wrestler to embarrass Bo in front of everyone. It turns out, though, that Bo has been attacking Jimmy for being gay (he’s not) because Bo is actually gay himself and he’s got repressed homosexuality! Okay…what does this have to do with anything?

The film concludes with a big party scene (it seems to be something of a default for Williamson) where the werewolf that bit the two siblings on the road comes out and attacks everyone. It ends up being about two women fighting over a man, and if anyone but Judy Greer were doing some of the cat-fighting I’d enjoy it less. She’s simply a fun actor, especially when she decides to vamp it up. But is that the real werewolf? Will there be another attack when we think all is well? Yes, there’s another twist! I did not see that coming! Except I did.

Okay, I feel like I’m being too mean and sarcastic at this point. The film is derivative, not all that unpredictable, and kind of bland in that mid-00s sort of way, but it’s entertaining enough to pass the time. The werewolf effects, well, at least the practical ones, are quite good. The CGI is typical, rushed, mid-00s CGI, which means it’s kind of awful. Ricci is okay as the purported main character, and Eisenberg is fine as the second fiddle. It’s a decent enough, if not nearly as imaginative as it seems to think it is, whodunit mixed with a werewolf story. The action and horror is probably what buoys it the most, with a solid sequence in a parking lot (with a character we don’t care about or know) that stands out.

It’s definitely not Craven’s worst work, but it’s kind of in line with what I would expect from the Williamson/Craven team at this point.

Rating: 2/4

10 thoughts on “Cursed”

  1. This was in one of those “10 blue ray horror films” combo things, and I bought it because of the one film I wanted (Phantoms). I dutifully watched it, though the only thing I remember was that Judy Greer was funny. But then, she usually is.

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      1. Dunno. Funny, there are a number of titles I can’t remember from that particular box, but I’m pretty sure there was nothing from the Children of the Corn franchise.

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  2. This movie has so many problems, the fact that it rises to mediocrity is a testament to professional movie-making.

    Where to start…? Well, let’s go with the cast. Judy Greer is a lot of fun, although I like her more in Archer than here. Everyone else though…you want me to believe everyone is panting after Joshua Jackson. Joshua Jackson? Really? Next there’s Jesse Eisenberg who is soy cancer in bipedal form. Christina Ricci never really fulfilled the expectations people had for her, dunno if it was drugs, sex or what that undercut her but this movie didn’t help. Milo Ventimiglia apparently existed for someone’s casting couch fantasy. This was 6 years after American Beauty but I suspect the screenplay dates to back then as the ‘all homosexual resistance is really just repressed homosexuality’ was the talking point of the time.

    That leads me to the screenplay. Kevin Williamson only really writes one kind of content: “Teenagers” in Hollywood having teenaged drama. The closer you look at the man, the creepier he gets. He writes Hollywood movies with coy dialog that is usually too self aware. Story-wise…this is barely even a werewolf movie. I hate to say it, but Twilight was more about vampires (sparkly abominations though they were) than this is about werewolves.

    And that leads me to my next complaint: most movies about werewolves don’t seem to ‘get’ werewolves. The horror or the appeal of it. The Howling did well, so did An American Werewolf in London, and parts of Underworld felt more in tune with the pack dynamics and supernatural power of man-wolf. Hell ‘Wolf’ with Jack Nicholson did a better job than this movie does. But you have only a few stories you can tell with werewolves: the ‘incredible hulk’ story where you are forced to transform into a (nearly) unstoppable monster that will kill your loved ones, or you have the ‘primal instinct’ story where you have a character that trades human social structure for a wolf’s. Teen relationship dramas are neither of those two stories.

    Seriously, you could swap in ANY supernatural creature for the werewolf here, zombie or vampire or demon possession and the plot wouldn’t change.

    Bleh.

    This is another film that doesn’t FEEL like a Wes Craven film, too. It’s like any director could have made this, there’s no personality. And I blame Jesse Eisenberg for that too.

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    1. At this point, what is a Wes Craven movie? The movies we think of as definingly him are exceptions to the rest of the body of work. They’re what we want from Craven, not necessarily what he wants to say or make himself.

      At this point, Kevin Williamson feels like a proto-Max Landis, someone who combines genres in unique ways but has no idea how to actually do the integration. The concept is enough for him to crap out a script that fits his standard output. It’s lazy.

      And Craven is just along for the ride.

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      1. I have my issues with Max Landis, but he does understand fiction writing and character…which is more than I can say for a whole lotta other screenwriters. Williamson just feels like a…hack. A formula machine and only one formula. He creates product, he doesn’t tell stories.

        I know you are going even more in depth with this series than I am, I’m mostly coasting on what I’ve watched over the years as opposed to re-watching everything. But I’d argue that a ‘Wes Craven’ movie should have a mix of horror (the unearned suffering of the innocent) and a emphasis on dreams or dream-like logic. That seems to be where his most effective and personal inspiration comes from. Now…the guy was paying bills after a point and he seemed to give up making anything anchored in his own ideas. So that dilutes the ‘Wes Craven’ movie brand…

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      2. The problem with trying to define a Craven film is that he really did get pigeonholed into making that kind of dream/horror film. It wasn’t what really interested him, so he wasn’t trying to shape unrelated scripts to fit his vision. He never really had a vision for what he wanted to be as a filmmaker, or he was simply so far from it for so long that he just couldn’t get there.

        If I had to hazard a guess, I’d be willing to bet that Music of the Heart was the kind of movie he wanted to make his whole career. That, if there’s a movie that Craven wished could have defined his career, it was the gentle Oscar bait about music.

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