A classic zombie film is composed of a complex mix of perfectly-measured elements: it requires sharp human characterisation, in addition to well-utilised zombies; a unique setting and impactful practical effects; gore and mayhem, plus some wry social commentary; black comedy, and some frightening suspense. Each element alone can make for valid example of zombie cinema.
Written and directed by David Freyne, ‘The Cured’, while not a classic, still manages to tick off quite a few of these boxes over the course of its 95-minute running time.
Years after Europe’s Maze Virus devastated much of Ireland, causing violent psychosis in those infected, a cure was discovered. 75% of those infected were treated successfully, although they retain memories of everything they did while infected. While the "Cured" are reintegrated into society (they return to their past selves, save for a little PTSD and social oppression due to the memories of their atrocities), the government debates what to do with the other 25%, the "Resistant".
Senan (Sam Keeley), a young Irish guy in his early-20s, is introduced as a Cured patient who is soon to be released to the care of his American journalist sister-in-law, Abbie (Ellen Page, ‘Juno’, 'Freeheld'). Senan is passive and ashamed, whereas his Cured friend, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, 'Avengers: Infinity War', TV's 'Love/Hate'), appears quite remorseless and blames society for their situation. Senan meets his Rehabilitation Officer, Sergeant Cantor (an excellent Stuart Graham, 'The Foreigner', 'Hunger'), who has little faith that the Cured (who share a unique telepathic bond) can integrate back into society without further violence. Cantor acts like a parole officer and shows little compassion for Senan.
Senan eventually reunites with Abbie, who has a toddler son, Cillian, who he quickly bonds with. Abbie soon asks Senan what became of her husband Luke, Senan's brother, who is still among the missing. Senan claims ignorance but... well, you have to watch the film. He also begins his new job at the treatment centre as an assistant to Dr Lyons (Paula Malcomson, TV’s ‘Ray Donovan’). She is racing to find a cure for the Resistants before the government decides to humanely euthanise the 5,000 remaining infected.
‘The Cured’ is very reminiscent of the BBC2 TV series ‘In the Flesh’ and France’s ‘Les Revenants’, with shades of Colm McCarthy’s ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’. Rather than relentless, flat-out scares, the film mixes social commentary with traditional horror movie tropes, giving it enough of a twist to stand out in a saturated film genre.
Senan’s friend Conor returns to a father who refuses to see him. The former barrister is also forced to take a job as a common custodian, further fuelling an entitlement fire that has Conor seeing society as an enemy intent on oppressing the Cured. Soon, characters are not only battling to prevent the latest outbreak of a virus that infects a body’s bloodstream, but also the kind of xenophobic fears that manipulate people's mindsets.
Rather than relentless, flat-out scares, the film mixes social commentary with the traditional horror movie tropes, giving it enough of a twist to stand out in a saturated film genre.
Eventually, the film devolves into some fairly bog-standard ’28 Days Later’ action, what Jeff Goldblum drolly describes in ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’ as the “running and screaming”. Shot mostly in North Dublin City, the largely deserted streets give the impression of a ghost town, an effective backdrop for some kinetic scenes of very fast zombies chasing and attacking people.
Sam Keeley makes Senan a tragically sympathetic hero, while Ellen Page is underwritten but gets to run around swinging an axe into zombie necks, which is neat. Paula Malcomson is mercilessly lumped with most of the pseudo-science and exposition. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is villainous and admirably seething, but his relationship with Page’s character needed to be beefed up.
Strangely, the film ends on a “to be continued…” note, which is overly-ambitious. However, for the most part, ‘The Cured’ is a suspenseful and intelligent horror movie with a enjoyably slow pace and melancholic palette.