Cursed

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: When siblings Ellie and Jimmy encounter a werewolf in Los Angeles and come off second best, they bear their scars in different ways. While student Jimmy finds a use for his new-found strength, Ellie struggles to come to terms with uncommonly powerful urges, all the while trying to maintain normality in her job and her relationship with unreliable boyfriend Jake.

There’s a beast loose in the L.A. hills, and it causes TV producer Ellie (Christina Ricci), travelling with nerdish brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), to hit the car of unfortunate young Becky (Shannon Elizabeth). Jimmy and Ellie try to rescue Becky but the creature drags her away, wounding Ellie and Jimmy in the process. The authorities write the incident off as an attack by a mountain lion, but Jimmy’s not convinced, and his research convinces him that they’ve been attacked by a werewolf.

Further proof comes when marks appear on his hands, and he’s suddenly able to humiliate former bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) in wrestling, in front of Bo’s girlfriend Brooke (Kristina Anapu). Meanwhile, Ellie has issues with her boyfriend, nightclub designer and ladykiller Jake (Joshua Jackson), and work trouble with Scott Baio’s pushy PA Joanie (Judy Greer), so a sudden bloodlust – and the more usual kind of lust – is something she could well do without.

However much she tries to deny the curse, Ellie can’t escape the evidence: but what to do about it? Well, as Portia de Rossi’s solemn psychic tells her, the only cure is to kill the beast; and there seems to be no shortage of candidates as to who it might be – not Chachi, surely?!

Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s Scream – financially, at least – did the horror genre a huge favour. Essentially, it laid the cards on the table, said ‘look, we know we work to a formula, that we use sudden scares, loud music and fake-outs to get reactions; we acknowledge and embrace these conventions, so turn off the VHS, come back to the cinema, sit back and let us scare the living daylights out of you.’ Having come clean, horror films were free to be as generic as they liked, since in the background the filmmakers were winking at the audience to say, ‘yeah, we know.’ With Cursed, Craven and Williamson turn their attention from the slasher genre to the werewolf movie – and pretty much fall flat on their faces.

The reasons for this are numerous. Firstly, it’s an entirely predictable exercise in bringing elements of werewolf lore to Los Angeles (which apparently enjoys a perpetual full moon, though new werewolves are affected by the moon in confusingly variable ways). Even if it is filtered through a post-Scream sensibility, the plot feels lazy, combining Ellie’s confused feelings with Jimmy’s Teenwolf-like adventures as they try to track down the original beast (I won’t reveal what happens here, but a) it doesn’t matter much and b) your first guess will probably be right).

But the main problem is that Cursed simply doesn’t deliver on what it needs to. It’s obvious that the gore has been toned down – not necessarily by Craven, I understand – to cater for a younger audience, which is fine; but it mixes computer-generated monsters (including a nasty version of Jimmy’s faithful dog Zipper) with men in wolf costumes, making neither look very good. Amazingly clever though the technology is, virtual creatures never feel real enough to be scary, and the effects here are not a patch on the transformations Rick Baker produced in the vastly superior An American Werewolf in London. Not once was I remotely grossed out or shocked, and the supposedly comic moments (eg. the beast giving police the finger) also felt misjudged.

Cursed also suggests that lycanthropy has certain fringe benefits for your sex life, but the age rating means that this too is toned down, neither Elizabeth, Mya (as pretty victim #2) nor Ricci giving much in the way of sexual heat or animal passion. Ricci acts gamely but isn’t right for the role, being neither a Rose McGowan-type hussy nor a Neve Campbell-like fighter, her occasionally whiny voice not suited to anger or shouting.

Eisenberg, acting dorky, comes off much better, and it’s fun to see him using the internet in the light of his later role in The Social Network; but he’s given nothing original to do, except perhaps fight off some unwanted attentions from an unexpected party. The rest of the cast are perfectly alright, Jackson appearing suitably ambiguous – is he a concerned partner, a scumbag lothario, or worse? – and it was quite nice to see Scott Baio send himself up. But if Scott Baio’s the highlight of your movie, you know you’re in trouble. Portia de Rossi, by the way, is completely wasted in a role that does nothing but explain the plot.

Ironically, Cursed was apparently cursed with production problems, and it shows. There’s definite mileage in a film called Teenwolves in L.A., either as a full-blooded horror or a knowing comedy: Eisenberg could no doubt handle both, as could both writer and director. However, this mushy, mediocre compromise is unlikely to satisfy anyone’s tastes. Avoid and – if you’re old enough – seek out John Landis’ masterful wolf movie instead.

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