Cursed is one of those examples where the making of a movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Once considered one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, this reinvention of the werewolf genre marked another collaboration between Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven – the screenwriter and director, respectively, of the massively successful Scream series. Production began in March of 2003, but studio executives were not happy with what they were seeing. In an unusual move, shooting was suspended for eleven weeks, during which time the script was extensively rewritten (almost completely changing the concept) and many of the roles were recast.
Things didn’t get any better once filming finally ended. Again, the studio found fault with the project, this time singling out the special effects, which had to be redone. Cursed additionally went through multiple re-edits and missed several release dates. The final straw came when it was forcibly edited from an R rating to a PG-13 at the last minute. Craven and Williamson have distanced themselves from the project, and Dimension Films did not screen it for critics. However, there are those of us who line up for such films on opening day for the sole purpose of giving them reviews.
The first sign of trouble comes when we discover that the lead character, Ellie (Christina Ricci), works as a production assistant on “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.” (Guess they didn’t anticipate Craiggers abandoning his job many months ago; this is a clear sign of how long Cursed has been delayed.) Ellie’s parents are dead, so she has taken care of raising her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg). As they cruise down Mulholland Drive late one night, a wolf of some kind leaps onto the car, smashing the windshield. They then crash into another vehicle being operated by Becky (Shannon Elizabeth). As Ellie and Jimmy try to help pull Becky from the wreckage, a wolf snatches her away, scratching the siblings in the process.
Not long afterward, they both notice some strange bodily changes going on, including an aversion to silver. In one of the best scenes, Ellie interrupts a conversation with a co-worker when she smells something good. We naturally assume this will be one of those scenes in which her newly improved sense of smell leads her through the hallways to a snack in a different part of the building. For a moment, it seems we are right, until her quest leads Ellie to…something a little more sinister. Jimmy also notices some differences, including the fact that he’s suddenly able to out-wrestle the school bully.
Meanwhile, the werewolf who ate Becky makes its way through Hollywood eating other hapless victims. Ellie has reason to believe the beast will come for her as well. She may also know the person who is transforming into the werewolf, which means there is a chance that she can stop it before any other massacres take place. It will also be necessary to find the alpha wolf in order to rid herself and Jimmy of the curse.
It is obvious that Cursed was intended to be a horror/satire along the lines of Scream and its sequels. There are definitely things in the movie that work extremely well. Wes Craven is a good horror director, and some of the scenes have undeniable tension. An extended sequence in which the werewolf stalks pop singer Mya through a parking garage and onto an elevator is harrowing. Part of the reason why it works is that Craven is sparse in what he shows us; for most of the scene, we only glimpse the beast’s feet. There is also a nifty wolf attack that takes place in a wax museum and a hall of mirrors.
The humor elements are in place as well. It’s fun watching Ellie and Jimmy discover their newfound powers. At the heart of the film, though, is a cleverly satiric explanation for the wolf attacks. When we learn who the marauding wolf is – and why this person is killing people when transformed – there’s a smart twist to it. You can tell that this was intended to be a postmodern werewolf movie that poked some fun at the complicated lives of today’s twentysomethings.
And that explanation of the killer’s motives would have been a beautiful thing had we come to know the character at all prior to the revelation. Instead, we are only briefly introduced to this person, which makes his/her motives seem more arbitrary than heartfelt. Had the character been more fully developed (which would have been easy to do), the revelation would have had a genuine comic sting.
That’s the problem with Cursed: it gets off on the wrong foot by failing to introduce the characters properly. This is an error from which it never recovers. The people are drawn sketchily at best, so there’s no real interest in what happens to them. I remember the central character from Scream: Sidney (Neve Campbell) was a virginal high school student trying to make sense of her mother’s murder. Two of her “friends” were dressing up as a masked maniac and brutally killing their peers in homage to horror movies. Ultimately, it was revealed that the culprits were also responsible for her mother’s death. That’s an incredible story arc for a film in this genre. Cursed lacks anything close to it. Probably the failure to establish things effectively is a by-product of the numerous rewrites, reshoots, and re-edits. You can almost feel the picture rushing through the exposition in order to get to the werewolves.
I admittedly have a certain amount of affection for the movie. Individual scenes work very well and hint at what might have been. However, the payoff depends too much on character traits that we are never clued in to. Any resonance or satiric impact it may have had is lost, simply because the characters are enigmas. To use a baseball metaphor, it’s a swing without a pitch. Too bad…this could have been a really potent mixture of horror and humor. I suspect, though, that Cursed - with all its backstage foibles - is going to make for one hellaciously good special edition DVD.
( 1/2 out of four)
Cursed is rated PG-13 for horror violence/terror, some sexual references, nudity, language and a brief drug reference. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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