Cursed (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Cursed is a good title for this film, which has been beset by problems from the outset. The version finally reaching theaters in February of 2005 likely bears little resemblance to what producer/writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven initially envisioned. Both have distanced themselves from the project, which was radically re-edited (with a pair of dull scissors, it seems) to de-gore the R-rated cut into something suitable for PG-13 audiences. And, for a variety of reasons, Cursed has sat on the shelves of Dimension Films, gathering dust until it could be unceremoniously dumped into theaters when no one is looking.

The film sets werewolf movies back more than 60 years. Not since primitive stop-motion special effects turned Lon Chaney into the Wolf Man has a movie lycanthrope looked so unconvincing. Recent advances, such as those on display in films like An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Wolf are disregarded in favor of cheap-looking, CGI-enhanced transformations from human beings into a man in wolf's clothing. Strangely enough, the makeup artist behind Cursed's creatures is Rick Baker - the same wizard who performed similar duties for An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Wolf. How Baker's results turned out so impressively in those movies and so lousy in this one is as much of a mystery as how Christina Ricci forgot how to act when the cameras began rolling.

I like Ricci a lot. Not only is she talented, but she is courageous in the roles she chooses. Unlike Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, who have sold their souls to Hollywood, Ricci continues to work outside of the limelight. Cursed probably represented little more than a paycheck, and it shows. This is the lamest performance of Ricci's career. Craven doesn't help matters, failing to make use of her wide, luminous eyes and expressive features. And Ricci isn't alone in failing to impress. Her co-stars, who include Joshua Jackson and Jesse Eisenberg, are equally unremarkable. Former Internet search engine queen Shannon Elizabeth and singer Mya are on hand to occupy body bags.

Ellie (Ricci) and her teenage brother, Jimmy (Eisenberg), are driving along Mulholland Drive one night when something big and furry slams into their car. Ellie loses control and hits another vehicle, sending it off the road and tumbling down a hillside. She and Jimmy race to the rescue, but, instead of saving the other driver, they are bitten by some kind of wild animal. Jimmy is convinced it's a werewolf - and he's right. Soon, Ellie and Jimmy start displaying superhuman powers. But Ellie doesn't want this curse - her desire is to have a normal life as a producer for "The Late Late Show with Craig Killborn" (not a good aspiration considering the fate of that program) while dating her current beau, Jake (Jackson). Jimmy, on the other hand, isn't totally repulsed by his new abilities. They enable him to go from nerd to jock in one day, while catching the eye of the girl of his dreams. But, while being a lycanthrope has its perks, the downside (thirsting for blood and having control problems during full moons) is too awful to ignore. So Ellie and Jimmy set out to find the responsible individual and separate that person's head from his or her heart.

Scream managed the difficult task of making audiences chuckle while scaring the hell out of them. Cursed contains more schlock than shocks. It's hard to say how much of the so-called humor is intentional. At its best, Craven's film is a B-movie parody - full of camp and cheese. At its worst, it's bad cinema with plenty of cringe-worthy moments and not enough jokey material to get us through the turgid, uninteresting plot with its asinine dialogue. It's as if we're seeing the flip side of everything that went right with Craven and Williamson's first collaboration.

Hollywood's desire to turn horror movies into a PG-13 category could be the undoing of the genre. Real horror movies can't be bound by the strictures that define the teen-friendly rating. Blood and gore aren't necessary, but a certain amount of psychological terror and brutality is. Halloween is virtually bloodless, but, even in today's climate, it's an R film. I won't argue that a more graphic Cursed would have been a better film, but the production's emasculation should not be so obvious. Every time something has been cut, it's obvious. If filmmakers and studios are going to make PG-13 horror movies, they should at least have the decency to hire a creative editor who can hide the original R intentions.

Had the movie focused more on how turning into a werewolf impacts Ellie and Jimmy's everyday lives, it might have found fertile territory. But that material takes a back-seat to a tedious "track down the alpha male" storyline that's as interesting as the dull, two-dimensional supporting characters. If there's the kernel of a good story buried somewhere deep in Cursed, it never pops. As werewolf movies go, this one is on par with An American Werewolf in Paris, but at least that dud had plenty of gore and Julie Delpy's bare breasts to recommend it. Horror movies are hot right now; Cursed may usher in a chilling breeze.

Cursed (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 2005-02-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1