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Cured, The

Shout Factory // R // July 3, 2018
List Price: $15.19 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 22, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

The most compelling character in the indie horror-drama The Cured is a nameless, tertiary woman: a person in the middle of being cured of a zombie virus, held in a medical transition space as she reverts from a frenzied maneater to something resembling a human again. Considering the casting of Ellen Page and the emphasis placed on the other people in the story who've been impacted by the calamity, ranging from saddened families to politicians whose aspirations were halted by getting infected, this comes as a bit of a shock. One can appreciate the ideas in which David Freyne hopes to realize in The Cured, in which he explores stigmas placed on those without a choice in the matter and grappling the violent things one has done in a past life. Without layered characters or potent scares, however, what's left over is a culmination of dour ideas without enough of a body to put them in motion, which leaves one searching for something, anything -- like a small side character -- to latch onto for substance.

Set in Ireland, which is recovering from the worst effects of a continent-wide zombie epidemic, The Cured follows a pair of men who have been given a revolutionary treatment that heals the disease. While the calamity itself may be purged from their systems -- enough to make people look and think like humans again; not quite enough to get rid of certain genetic markers that can be tracked/scanned -- they're left with one particularly harrowing side-effect: they remember everything they did, everyone they ate and/or turned, during the period. As they're introduced to society with new jobs, they struggle to reintegrate: one man, Senan (Sam Keeley), tries to get back to normal around his sister-in-law (Ellen Page) and her child, working at the reintegration facility with a doctor and patient; and the other, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), once a politician, feels the harshness dished out by the people and the mundanity of his newly assigned job. While one copes with memories to become human again, the other teeters on the brink of lashing out.

Zombies being transformed back into humans isn't an entirely new concept -- the horror-comedy Warm Bodies sunk its teeth into that idea -- but it's not one that has really been approached from an honest dramatic standpoint, which is usually reserved for depicting humans transforming into zombies (see: the underrated Maggie). Perhaps it's because the logistics of making that happen, of revitalizing the human brain from either a necrotic or infected state after a prolonged period of time, are so out-there that it's tough to take in earnest … yet a little funky technobabble could ultimately make it work. The Cured doesn't really attempt that: David Freyne's script remains vague about the cause and functionality of the animal-derived "plague", as well as the medical resolution created to fix it. The world-building isn't terribly interesting here, instead seeming somewhat obligatory and hands-off as if to preserve to illusion of how this scenario might play out in the "real world", evading details in hopes that the audience will fill in their own gaps. By doing so, Freyne's world itself lacks detail.

Of course, one school of thought involving horror and sci-fi writing suggests that so long as the characters and themes accomplish unique and engaging things, that "science" can remain inconsequential. Unfortunately, such can't really be said about The Cured either, as the dramatics rarely go beyond its austere surface. There are flickers of ideas here regarding how people cope with stigmas -- stemming from genetics -- that they cannot control, as well as post-trauma stress and how people might move on from mistakes made in their past when they were "different people". It's a stretch to get to that symbolism, though, and looking at the events through that lens doesn't add much to the film, which revolves around varying degrees of shunning and skepticism toward those who were once zombies. The straightforward aspects of the characters don't really help the process along: Senan's desire for assimilation and Conor's revolutionary spite are in effortless opposition, and their kinship hinges on cannibalistic actions from when they literally were thinking like monsters instead of themselves.

Since The Cured doesn't rely on upfront scares, instead concerned with the permeation of terror and the complications occurring within, its momentum hinges on the staying power of grim anarchy: what happens if those that sympathize with actual zombies "partner" with the few that remain and upend the status quo. Freyne does generate a degree of dread and unpredictability once the chaos starts taking over, yet that volatility also results in the film's maddening final gut-punch of a twist, one where the sobering expressiveness of Ellen Page's turn as a traumatized mother can't overcome the infuriating contrivance of what's responsible for sparking her emotions. The primary character development ultimately ends in a wash, but at least there's also the story of that older awakening zombie woman I mentioned earlier, which culminates in a halfway sincere, heartbreaking arc once her identity gets revealed. Her progression is what The Cured needed more of … along with a little extra gore, perhaps.

Video and Audio:

I'm betting that you're probably not expecting a vibrant film after hearing more about The Cured, and the aesthetic is about what's to be expected of an almost post-apocalyptic, zombie-ravaged take on Ireland, full of heavy textures, decreased saturation, and lower lighting. Shout/Scream Factory's 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC treatment captured the digital cinematography exceptionally well, especially in the arena of fine detail, where scarred flesh, stony surfaces, garments, and skin showcase a healthy array of both bold textures and softer, refined exteriors. Muted reds and greens emerge from the slate-leaning color timing. Contrast levels are surprisingly responsive, too, preserving details in darker, low-luminescence sequences and deepening shadows amid brighter sequences, while also enhancing the depth of the image through strong light gradation. The Cured isn't the kind of movie one watches for visual engagement, but the desired rough-hewn, moody aesthetic looks great from Shout Factory.

Snarls, rattling metal, and tearing flesh aren't frequent in The Cured, but they are consistent sonic elements that add bursts of interest in this otherwise lower-key sound design, amply presented here in a 5.1 DTS- HD Master Audio track from Shout Factory. The sound of zombies trying to escape from restraints on a hospital bed tap into erratic, yet crisp high-end clarity, while the gentle heaving of breaths and splatter of blood hits fine midrange tones in much the same way. Only a few lower-end hits emerge -- the impact of a blunt weapon upon a body, for example -- but they telegraph tight lower-end responses without a lot of fuss. Dialogue remains the key element throughout the drama, though, and it all comes through with firm, balanced strength from the front channels, hanging on deeper registries from the guys and the sharp midrange delivery from Ellen Page. Surround activity isn't infrequent, either, with a decent amount of activity traveling to the back channels for impact, less for atmosphere. It's a clean, natural track without perceptible distortion, and a good match for the visuals.

Special Features:

Apart from a Trailer (2:26, 16x9 HD), Shout Factory have also included a Behind the Scenes Featurette (6:07, 16x9 HD), a fairly generic press-kit assembliy of interviews, behind-the-scenes shots, and clips from the film, where they discuss the ideas behind the film, shooting in Ireland, and what drew Ellen Page to the project.

Final Thoughts:

Zombie dramas can be both meaningful and unsettling, so long as the characters and the weight of the themes can offer a counterbalance to the absence of intentional attempts at scaring the audience. The Cured holds a compelling premise -- what happens when zombies get a cure, yet they remember what they did as monsters -- but can't land on the right ways to deepen the characters or deliver impact with the themes, simply coming across as overtly gloomy and harsh. Each of its components has something worthwhile on the surface, from the design of the characters to the establishment of the setting and the underlying thematic intents, but the film itself doesn't dig deep enough under the surface of its potential. Largely devoid of thrills and growingly contrived as it moves forward, The Cured ends up being an exercise in dour frustration instead of a potentially meaningful zombie drama. Rent It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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