The once vibrantly undead Zombie horror sub-genre may be running out of steam, but Scream Factory and IFC Film's The Cured shows there's still some smart blood pumping in filmmaker's brains. Almost working as a pseudo-sequel to 28 Days Later, The Cured turns a dramatic idea to surviving the zombie apocalypse by casting it as a metaphor for drug addiction and the toll recovery takes on a family. The film may get a bit bogged down in the middle, but some strong performances and a smart concept keep the film afloat. Scream Factory delivers a Blu-ray with some bite to it with a crisp video transfer and an excellent audio mix to match. If you're hungry for some more drama to your horror, The Cured is Recommended viewing.
I'm a zombie fan. Ever since a fateful night in my teens where I got to experience Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead (1990), and Return of the Living Dead in the same evening, I've been hooked on the horror sub-genre. When Zombie fandom reanimated in the early 2000s, I was ecstatic that something I loved so dearly was back from the dead and being treated with some respect by mainstream filmmakers. While some of the initial offerings were a lot of fun, the genre became pretty tired as the years wore on. Gradually, it became harder and harder to get excited by any undead human with a craving for brains. Writer/director David Freyne's The Cured may not revitalize the sagging genre, but it's a welcome and worthy entry. A smart script with good ideas and a talented cast push this film into becoming an above average take on familiar material.
The Maze virus swept through Europe infecting people without regard to age, health, or sex. Only this virus doesn't kill you, it turns you into a mindless killer that hunted and devoured human flesh. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lyons (Paula Malcomson), a cure was found. There was a way to bring these mindless killers back and make them "normal" again. But what if society didn't want them back? Ireland was hit hardest and has the largest population of "cured" people returning home. Senan (Sam Keeley) has been accepted back home by his American sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page).
As Senan tries to reintegrate back into society, he's haunted by the memories of his actions and the death of his brother. Pressured by the influence of his friend Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a radicalized cured faction leader determined to force humanity to accept them, Senan will have to choose between family and his own kind. Even cured, Senan worries it wasn't always the virus that drove his most violent instincts.
While The Cured has been well marketed as a "bold" and "original" take on Zombie lore, it's important to step back and make note of the simple fact that the idea of a "zombie cure" isn't original. It has been done before. Namely, the BBC did a solid mini-series in 2014 called In The Flesh that dealt with a very similar plot of the reintegration of former zombies into society. The Cured may not be all that original, but it does deal with the story ideas and themes in its own unique way - namely treating the infection like an addiction allegory. People go to a rehab center and come out "normal" but never fully 100%. There's always a lingering trace, they remember everything they did and how they cope with their demons while struggling to lead normal lives is what makes this film work as well as it does.
Akin to more recent zombie films like Schwarzenegger's Maggie, The Cured aims more for dramatic punch than horror flair. We watch as Page's Abbey struggles with her own reluctance to house a "Cured" with a small child of her own in the house, but she also doesn't want to turn her back on family. She want's to believe Senan is "normal" playing as a right of forgiveness. But Senan is struggling with his darker self with the always-present Conor looming in the background like a pusher trying to lure his best customer back towards violence.
Given the nature of the virus and how the infected never really die, The Cured actually plays out as a welcome cousin film to 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. One could almost see how writer/director David Freyne could have originally conceived the film as the third chapter in that franchise. It covers a lot of the same ground but in a smart parallel to those filmy by not trying to redo the same stuff again. It clearly knows its place in the genre and aims to explore some different ideas.
Where the film gets a little bogged down is when it tries to evoke some slightly out of place civil rights allegories. Humans and Cured fighting against each other with protests erupting into violence as Paula Malcomson's Dr. Lyons becomes a scientific voice of ration and reason against two groups that are collectively growing more irrational each day. While there is some decent stuff here, it feels like one theme too many layered onto a story that is already chockfull of them. Perhaps the film could have used a little more time to breathe as some of these ideas felt a bit rushed.
While imperfect, I did enjoy The Cured. It did more right than wrong and its central storyline was explored well enough that I didn't feel shortchanged as I have from other recent zombie films (again going back to Maggie). Performances were strong all around with Sam Keeley delivering a conflicted character struggling to find himself with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor turning in a chillingly manipulative turn as Conor. Ellen Page passively plays Abbie as the audience's surrogate, someone out of place trying to figure things out. She's a bit lax in the front end but she shows some great range as the film pushes along.
As the Zombie genre lumbers along, it's getting harder and harder to get excited about any new entry that comes along. In the days since 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead we've seen the return of George Romero, numerous remakes and reboots, and enough cheap direct-to-video cast off films that one could open their own rental store dedicated to zombie films. On that note, I'm actually happy to see something come out that was genuinely well thought out and constructed with a measure of talent behind the camera. David Freyne may not have reinvented the genre, but he shows there's still some life in the undead. At a swift 95-minutes, The Cured offers up some decent scares with a well-tuned sense of dread making it worth a viewing or two. Just don't go expecting a scare-a-minute, you won't get that sort of film here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Cured arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory's Scream Factory label in a single disc Blu-ray set. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy case and offers reversible artwork. The disc loads to trailers for other Scream/IFC releases before arriving at a static-image main menu with traditional navigation options.
The Cured arrives with a moody and atmospherically effective 2.40:1 1080p transfer. Given the dreary Dublin, Ireland filming locations, the film's color palette isn't exactly very bright and cheery. The film favors the sort of olive-drab appearance of a WWII film with frequent heavy greens, grays, and dull whites with only small flourishes of primaries - namely the trace of the remaining virus against the whites of people's eyes. So don't go in expecting a bright and cheery affair. Details are strong throughout letting one appreciate the solid makeup work done for infected people while making the most of the location shots, clothing, and facial features. Black levels are deep and effectively inky, there are some very good creepy moments of infected lurking in the shadows just barely out of the light. Free of any compression anomalies or banding, this is a clean and even image.
The Cured sports an effective English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Dialog is clean and clear throughout. The only trouble spots there are some of the incredibly thick Irish accents can be a bit hard to catch completely, but that's more my bad ear for brogues than any clarity issue. Sound effects are a bit on the subdued side as this is a bit quieter and contemplative, but there is plenty of activity where it counts to keep the surrounds working. Busy streets filled with protestors or the cavernous hospital where the remaining uncurable infected reside offer up some great sonic activity. Their heavy breathing is particularly chilling in these scenes. Scoring by Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy doesn't call too much attention to itself, but it's moody stuff that fits in nicely with the film's temperament with a final number that is particularly haunting. Levels are spot on without any need for adjusting.
Unfortunately, The Cured doesn't exactly have a very robust bonus feature package. The included Behind The Scenes content is pretty par-for-the-course EPK material where you only get a couple minutes of content that teases the production of the film.
Behind the Scenes (HD 6:17) Apparently the film was originally titled The Third Wave, this EPK feature is actually pretty informative even if it's very brief. I'd love to have seen more.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:26)
The Cured may not breathe new life into the lumbering Zombie genre, but it's a welcome addition proving there is some interesting territory worth traveling. Strong performances and a smart script with intricate themes elevate the material beyond being another humdrum dramatic take on the walking dead. While its central premise isn't exactly new, writer/director David Freyne smartly paces the film that leads to a fitting payoff. It may not be the scariest horror film out there, but it's pretty good stuff - enough to impress this cynical zombie fanatic. Scream Factory brings The Cured to Blu-ray in good form with a strong A/V presentation. Extras are sadly lacking but the film itself is well worth the time. Recommended.