In 1764, a series of brutal killings occurred in the Southern French region formerly known as Gévaudan. Sensationalist newspapers picked up the story, describing partially-eaten victims, predominantly women and children, whose throats had been torn out. A large animal was suspected, possibly supernatural in nature, but no perpetrator was ever found or definitively determined (popular theories range from an escaped lion or hyena to a freak wolf infestation).
This dark episode would later inspire the werewolf flick Brotherhood of the Wolf, which added copious martial arts and casual nudity to the proceedings, and now Sean Ellis’s The Cursed, which mines Gévaudan for tragic backstory fodder and an excuse to reenact the USS Indianapolis speech from Jaws. It also bumps its werewolf mayhem up to the late 1800s—the plot involves greedy land baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) conspiring with local officials to dishonor a Romani clan’s property deed, resulting in a massacre, coverup, and souvenir photo.
Repress something long enough and it festers, and sure enough, children in the vicinity begin to suffer night terrors drawing them to the killing field. Once Laurent’s son goes missing and children start turning up dead, a world-weary pathologist (Boyd Holbrook) arrives to solve a mystery of which the audience has known the solution since act one and patiently waits for the detective to catch up. It’s by no means an unpleasant wait—The Cursed offers some wonderfully gloomy cinematography and perverse body horror reminiscent of The Thing.
But The Cursed is no From Hell (nor was From Hell’s adaptation, for that matter. It’s hard to squeeze a tour of London’s phallic symbols and cognitive time travel into one movie). Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s delirious graphic account of the Whitechapel murders attributed the Jack the Ripper killings to physician William Gull and traded whodunit intrigue for a sprawling exploration of the sociopolitical context in which the Ripper was able to function, this notion that the transition to twentieth-century modernity came with an incomprehensible capacity for violence and terror. The Cursed gets at similar ideas, but it’s too tethered to the conventions of a creature feature procedural to fully explore them.
The film is bookmarked by the grisly imagery of World War I, opening with surgeons removing a mysterious silver bullet out of a body riddled with the usual mass-produced variety. The Great War has become a weirdly fashionable period of late for filmmakers to work out issues of wounded British pride (1917; The King’s Man), but The Cursed gets that the horrors visited on a vulnerable populace are structural and often inscrutable. The historical Gévaudan occurred in the wake of the Seven Years’ War; France was in rough shape well before the predator(s) arrived.
Gévaudan was a remote, rural part of France; the elites might have overlooked it were it not for a burgeoning tabloid culture’s thirst for true crime. Louis XV eventually dispatched his gun-bearer François Antoine, who shot and killed a large wolf and called it a day. It didn’t stop the killings. Ellis moves the central drama to the aristocracy’s backyard, implying that history is both local and continuous.
The Cursed (2022)
Runtime: 113 minutes
MPA Rating: R
Streaming: N/A (currently in theaters)