Synopsis – 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.
My Take – While AMC keep reeling in the success of their never ending cable show, The Walking Dead and its spinoff Fear The Walking Dead, it’s hard not to deny that the horror sub-genre of zombies has become exhausting for some time now, at least on the big screen, mainly as filmmakers refuse to stake out fresh territories in order to revive any form of genuine interest outside their regular fan base. Sure, there are excellent exceptions like British director Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts and the South Korean, Train to Busan, from director Yeon Sang-ho, in between, the pressure remains on the filmmakers to sharpen the zombies’ bite, mainly as it’s been five years since World War Z stomped theaters, and eleven years since director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later, the terrifically thrilling sequel to director Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, hit the screens and rejuvenated interest with their bracing approach.
While the film here in question doesn’t quite achieve its potential, mainly due to its smaller budget in comparison to the above mentioned, however, writer/director David Freyne deserves applaud for bringing in a remarkable twist on the undead genre. Based on his own 2014 short film, The First Wave, with echoes from the BAFTA award-winning BBC Three supernatural drama series, In The Flesh, the film takes a more psychological than horror approach by introducing a zombie virus cure, and offering an intriguing spin on the post-apocalyptic narrative that focuses on ex-zombies haunted by horrific recollections of the atrocities they committed during their murderous frenzy. While the film does have its rough edges in the plot, director Freyne manages to keep the film provocative, political and powerfully tense, all the while delivering genuine chills and emotions never seen in a zombie based film before.
Set in a world where the Maze Virus, a zombie outbreak has been contained in the rest of Europe but has devastated Ireland. Eventually, a cure was found, which led to the curing of 75% of the population and are now being released into the public in three waves, while the remaining 25% are going to be euthanized by the government. The story follows Senan (Sam Keeley), who after spending 4 years as an undead, is now completely cured, is taken in by his brother’s widow Abbie (Ellen Page), an American journalist who is stranded because the US has closed its borders and her young son. However, the cured face resentment and physical attacks from those who don’t believe they should be readmitted to society, mainly as they still carry vivid memories from the period when they were zombies.
While, Senan gets himself employed at the treatment center with Dr Lyons (Paula Malcomson), in order to repent for his time, and to help her in find a way to make the cure work for the last 5,000 zombies, his friend and older survivor Connor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a former barrister and politician has other plans in mind. Unhappy with the sudden shift in his class hierarchy, Connor has placed himself at the center of a cured people’s rights campaign filled with resistance members who are willing to contemplate dangerous tactics to get their rights back, actions which might derail Senan’s life once again.
The premise works as a solid foundation for a horror-drama, and after it reels you in, the film delivers by being a breath of fresh air in a saturated genre. Along with working in additional personal elements to Senan’s story in order to raise the stakes, director Freyne also offers some excellent social commentary. In the sense, the film gives an insight into how difficult it is to accept someone with a history of violence back into the community and how it’s difficult it’s for one to back in the community, and live a normal life, especially if he/she remembers all of the horrific things that they has done. The film also explores a number of themes, including racism, genocide, forgiveness, and atonement. The film also explores the reasons for why someone would join a terrorist organization as some of the cured join forces to fight anti-cured grassroots organizations.
The first hour sets up characters and their increasingly tense situation with an eye towards both suspense and drama, with Senan’s dealing with the general grief of what he’s done, but it’s clear he’s keeping something from Abigail regarding his brother/her husband, that something is exactly what you think it is, that threatens to derail their already tenuous reunion. She’s of the belief that the cured deserve a second chance, but her interest in clemency for the infected killers is challenged by her concerns for her son’s safety. So many zombie/infected films place their protagonists in a situation and run in place with it that it’s exciting to find one that keeps unfolding in new directions.
While the themes delve deeper than pure horror, there are elements of homophobia, issues with immigrants, among others and they are treated with a deft hand. This is due to the expert writing and directing from David Freyne and like most Zombie films, the primary reading here, is immediately obvious, but director Freyne‘s razor-sharp script cleverly allows for multiple readings, whether it’s society’s treatment of minorities, echoes of the AIDS crisis and its aftermath, or the seething political unrest and anxiety engendered by the likes of Donald Trump. Director Freyne‘s provocative approach pays off in complex and interesting ways, because you frequently find yourself siding with the zombies – not just the cured, but the resistant too. To that end, Conor’s arc in the film is extremely chilling – he starts out as an entirely sympathetic character, for example, his rejection by his father is heartbreaking, he’s victimized and bullied by the military in the rehab centers, and the audience is fully on his side for the early part of the film, until you find yourself almost backing away from him in horror.
We understand the desire of some healthy people to kill everyone who was ever infected and get revenge for their dead, or just get it over with. We also understand the feelings of the cured, and how the situation of those yet to be cured might look different to them. There is also Abbie’s part in the film, Page play’s it decently but she is more a reactionary foil to Senan and Connor. Thankfully though she has a few scenes that are quite commendable in particular a scene with Senan in the third act of the film. Coming to the visuals, the film despite lacking the budget of bigger films, makes good use of small familiar spaces, from living rooms to hospital consulting rooms and alleyways, effectively imposing its disturbing scenario onto the landscapes of everyday Irish life. Director Freyne also handles the action sequences with aplomb and are exciting and terrifying, with most of the sequences shown in flashback. With creative use of cinematography, the zombie scenes still pack a punch and their design renders them as terrifying as in big blockbuster films, especially the great, fitting grand finale.
However, this is a lot to work through in 95 minutes and director Freyne doesn’t altogether succeed, as not enough time is devoted to Connor’s rise to power to make it convincing and Abbie doesn’t have much room to develop as a character beyond her relationships to the male characters, so that key revelations don’t have quite the impact they deserve. Also the pacing and editing undercut the interesting tale, as the tense moments are over-punctuated with slogging scenes about family, and the payoff we get isn’t really what such an interesting idea deserved. Still, in a sea of zombie films that boil down to little more than sheer violence, this ambitious feature debut enters an exclusive pantheon beside other notable genre-definers and ultimately proves a capable and refreshing film.
Against this persuasive backdrop, the cast give it their all. Both Ellen Page and Sam Keeley bringing their emotional turmoil to the forefront but bringing the fierce intensity when called for. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is mesmerizing as Conor and entirely believable as a would-be politician, he has a powerful charisma that’s laced with a sinister intensity. He’s particularly fascinating in his separate interactions with Keely and Page, generating two distinctly different sets of powerful chemistry, both of which conceal his true intentions. On top of that, there’s effective support from Stuart Graham as vicious military honcho Cantor, while Paula Malcolmson is heartbreaking as the woman whose discovery may have saved the world, but is unable to save the woman she loves. On the whole, ‘The Cured‘ is a taut psychological thriller that works well as a refreshing albeit small genre effort.
Directed – David Freyne
Rated – R
Run Time – 95 minutes