Wes Craven's Cursed Review
After all the delays, reshoots and bad word of mouth, Cursed isn't anything like the disaster some have proclaimed it. As a new collaboration from Scream's director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, it's also not half as good as it ought to be. This is a watchable little werewolf movie that has its moments but fails to do for lycanthropes what Scream did for masked slashers.
Christina Ricci plays Ellie, a twentysomething TV production assistant working for a Los Angeles talk show. Ellie's a busy girl. She juggles long working days with taking care of her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), of whom she's had custody since their parents died, and then she tries to make time to see her nightclub-owner boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson). Jake has been acting a bit stand-offish lately and Ellie is worried that their relationship is ending. Brother Jimmy has his own problems. He's in love with high school babe Brooke (Kristina Anapau) but she's already dating wrestler Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), the meanest bully in school.
One night when the moon is full, Ellie is driving Jimmy home along Mulholland Drive when her car hits an animal, skids and runs another vehicle off the road. As she and her her brother try to pull its driver (Shannon Elizabeth) out of her overturned car, a wolf-like creature pounces on the unfortunate girl, drags her away and leaves her rescuers with scratches and bite marks. Of course the monster was a werewolf and we all know what happens when you're bitten by a werewolf. As a month passes and the moon once again grows full, Ellie and Jimmy start to experience changes. However, they may not last long enough to fully turn - the wolf that attacked them has returned to finish the job.
As an undemanding piece of entertainment, Cursed works reasonably well, at least for its first two thirds, giving us characters we can sympathise with, the amusing dialogue we expect from Kevin Williamson and the well-staged shocks we expect from Wes Craven. If it never quite gets into third gear and it starts to fall apart towards the end, the movie's still head and shoulders above most of the garbage that's been passing for mainstream horror in the last few months.
What's missing from Cursed is a fresh take on werewolves. The secret of Scream was that Craven and Williamson understood the slasher genre so well that they could have fun with it while still giving the audience a scary ride. Unfortunately they don't seem to know a damn thing about werewolves or classic horror in general. Cursed merely bolts the mythology of the genre onto a plot that is basically Scream with a werewolf standing in for the ghost-faced killer. This formula provides some effective scare scenes, the best featuring the r&b singer Mya being stalked in an underground garage, but greater opportunities have been missed.
Craven and Williamson don't have the nerve to touch on the underlying tragedy of the werewolf curse, the approach that made John Landis's An American Werewolf In London so scary and so bitterly funny. Now that was the Scream of the werewolf genre. Cursed plays it safe, using the creatures as generic monsters and playing them for laughs.
For a Wes Craven film, Cursed is conspicuously bloodless, the result of the studio demanding cuts for a PG-13 rating. To make matters worse, the cuts are so crude and obvious, the film looks like it's been butchered to fit into an early-evening TV slot. You can see exactly where the missing shots should have been. I'm not usually one to advocate skipping films in the cinema but Cursed will be available uncut on DVD and in this case, you'd be best advised to wait.
Christina Ricci is damagingly miscast. She's likeable enough at the start but when the script calls for her to transform into a tougher, more confident, more sexually alluring woman, she's still the same mousey Christina Ricci. Characters keep commenting on how she's changed and you wonder what they're talking about. Jesse Eisenberg is better, doing a pretty decent job as a high school geek who uses his lupine powers to stand up for himself and woo the girl of his dreams. His scenes are the most fun to watch, even if they're lifted straight out of the Teen Wolf movies. The rest of the cast is unmemorable although I noticed that Judy Greer plays exactly the same skinny, blonde media bitch she played in 13 Going On 30. Disappointingly little is done with the TV subplot she features in. Werewolves in the entertainment industry might have been the twist Cursed needed but the idea isn't explored.
The film's most embarassing flaw is its CGI special effects, which are terrible. Computer graphics can sometimes perform miracles but they have limitations and one thing they still can't fake convincingly is fur. The wolfman in Van Helsing looked terrible and the ones here are even worse. Rick Baker's live effects on American Werewolf nearly a quarter of a century ago put the cartoonish beasts here to shame. Just wait until you see the were-dog, which is perhaps the silliest looking creature ever seen in a film. For sheer groan-inducing awfulness, even that can't match the shot of a werewolf giving someone the finger. How did Wes Craven ever approve that?