Cursed (2005)

Cursed first published by Movie Gazette, 20 April 2005

On LA’s Mulholland Drive on the night of the full moon, Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) collide with another car when they swerve to avoid an animal. The siblings are scratched, and the other driver (Shannon Elizabeth) is torn apart, by what Jimmy describes as a “monster wolf” – and as Ellie and Jimmy acquire new strength, heightened senses and untold sexual magnetism, they realise that they have fallen under a werewolf’s curse, and must race to find and kill the one who bit them before the changes become irreversible.

Could it be Ellie’s promiscuous boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson) whose exes keep dying, or one of her creepy television colleagues, like admiring Kyle (Michael Rosenbaum) or seventies-obsessed “psycho-publicist” Joanie (Judy Greer)? Or maybe it’s the homophobic school bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) – now he’s definitely hiding something – or that weird gypsy Zela (Portia de Rossi) who seems to know everything, or even Scott ‘Chachi from Happy Days’ Baio (as himself) – after all, no-one knows what he’s up to these days. All that is certain is that things are going to get hairy out there.

With Cursed, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson try to revive the hyper-ironic sensibilities that made them Hollywood’s hippest horror pairing of the nineties by doing for the werewolf movie what their previous hits Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997) did for the slasher flick. Blurring the boundaries between reality and film fantasy by setting their production in Hollywood itself, they have pieced Cursed together from just about every major werewolf film in recent history. The two main characters are siblings (Ginger Snaps). Jimmy finds himself waking up naked in strange places (An American Werewolf in London) and newly empowered at school (Teen Wolf), while Ellie becomes more assertive, and more attractive, in the workplace (Wolf). From the opening song to Ellie’s wolf-and-maiden-themed cuckoo clock, there are several references to the story of Little Red Riding Hood (The Company of Wolves) – and there is even a climactic fight alongside a scale model of Lon Chaney Jr. as Hollywood’s original Wolfman (1941).

This scatter-gun approach, however, adds up to a film with no real focus. One moment it uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for sexual awakening, next for closeted homosexuality (“I just couldn’t keep it in anymore”) or drug addiction (“there are ways to control it”), or even to symbolise the film’s own anxiety of influence in a postmodern age (“everybody’s cursed nowadays”). In short it is a confusing mess, occasionally funny, but with hardly enough bite to get you howling – and an affair this aimless ought at least to be more frightening. The CGI wolf effects, though an improvement on similar transformations in last year’s Van Helsing, are notably inferior to the mechanical modelling of An American Werewolf in London seen decades earlier – and only the acting of Jesse Roger Dodger Eisenberg makes any real impression.

It is as though Craven and Williamson have decided to try on wolf’s clothing, but forgot to bring any real claws or bite.

strap: Given the long line of werewolf movies that it references, Wes Craven’s monster movie cannot help but seem the runt of the pack.

Anton Bitel