Zombie outbreaks do not deter egoism. That’s the hilarious takeaway from David Freyne’s obtusely serious living-dead drama, “The Cured,” where the undead are revived back to their human selves. The hook is that the film’s former-zombies bear, in their return, memories of their rootless flesh-munching. And this, the film doesn’t let it slip by you, sledgehammering the P.T.S.D. allegory it shares with Robin Campillo’s subtler, tauter undead entry, “Les revenants” (2004, eng. lit: “They Came Back”). Some are naturally agonized, like Senan (an able Sam Keeley, shrouded with insufferable guilt and trauma), who, heads-down, tries to silently reintegrate himself back to society, and more importantly, to his family. He’s left a sister-in-law, named Abbey (played by Ellen Page), who’s had to fend for her infant child in the midst of the outbreak. But some aren’t, like Conor (an unflinching Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a pre-outbreak lawyer-slash-politician who worms his way into power by brewing a coup amongst the prejudiced lot of the Cured.
The film is set in Freyne’s native Ireland—a country with a widely recorded history of penitentiary-set insurgence. That in itself speaks succinctly of what “The Cured” mainly tries to echo, but on it goes rambling about its subtext so aggressively, like a copywriter living and dying by overt call-to-actions. “They’re treating us worse than prisoners,” blurts one character, just in case you haven’t caught the film’s drift. The virus which has turned a huge sample of Ireland into flesh-famished animals is called the Maze Virus, a name that sounds about as arbitrary names go if the film wasn’t set in Ireland, where the Maze Prison—venue to some of history’s most chilling comeuppances and thrilling escapes—stands hauntingly.
When it’s not heavy-handing social parallels, the film thrives. Freyne’s story buoys in thick, insufferable atmosphere from which leaks a ruthless, mood-borne irony that, like the film’s virus, afflicts its characters beyond death. Senan, among the Cured who have been given the chance to return to their families, struggles to reintegrate himself, due in varying parts of prejudice, fraught, and the guilt of devouring his own brother. It’s a secret that gnaws inside Senan; a fact of which his sister-in-law, Abbey, is oblivious; and information that, unbeknownst to him, his quarantine-buddy, Conor, is keeping for leverage. It’s all very intimately existential, hardly the maximalist paradoxes bigger and more successful films in the living-dead canon—“Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later”, among others—proffer.
To this end, the film’s chief players deliver great performances. Between Keeley and Page, the film captures a dynamic that’s distinctly homely, a clear juxtaposition of the unrest that’s felt outside their home. This stands out due in part to Piers McGrail’s lensing, which has the film’s events unfold in a decidedly dreary, prosaic, almost too self-serious fashion. Keeley and Page share genuinely affecting moments that render a familial sort of connection only later to be challenged once Senan’s secret has been revealed. The sound-work by Jens Rosenlund Petersen add a welcome layer of grunge that makes the film’s inevitable denouement all the more dreadful. The film also relishes an unnerving degree of menace that Vaughan-Lawlor emanates through Conor, who is the film’s power-hungry, militia-building, and rather one-note tantrum-machine of a villain.
All of which is to say that “The Cured” is a pretty good zombie film. Somewhere, in its cornucopia of elements that make such a film resonant, is also a really great zombie film. It has all the trappings, as it has toiled to show us that it does, but there’s great virtue in saying one thing perfectly clear and maybe less in saying a number of things at once. By the time one comes out of “The Cured”, it becomes clear that the film is willing to become all its parts rather than its greater sum. It’s an endearing enough hi-concept drama with enough biting commentary and enough scares to call itself a proper horror film. But man, do I think it should have been bigger than that.
2018 / Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller / IE
Direction: David Freyne
Screenplay: David Freyne
Cast: Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson
A disease that turns people into zombies has been cured. The once-infected zombies are discriminated against by society and their own families, which causes social issues to arise. This leads to militant government interference.