Zombie revisionism used to be a contentious subject among horror nerds, but these days it’s hard to imagine a sub-genre more desperately in need of freshening up. Fast or slow doesn’t terribly matter anymore, because the whole thing has been overplayed to death. Enter The Cured, which presents an exceptional idea: most zombies (75% of those infected) have been cured, they remember everything they did, and are slowly being reintegrated into society.
Zombies can helpfully be applied to a wide range of cultural commentaries, but tend to be a stand-in for common people. They can be us, or they can be the Other, but either way, en masse and out of control, they signify a transformation of established social order. Reintroducing ex-zombies into society neatly analogizes the popular resistance to refugee diaspora, and the beautiful elegance of this analogy is the most impressive thing about The Cured.
More grim drama with loud noises than horror film, Cured begins with the third-wave release of cured zombies, including two rehab buddies, Senan (Sam Keeley) and Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). Senan goes to live with sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page) and his nephew, while Conor heads to a Cured shelter, having been disowned from his family after eating his mother. Reintegration isn’t fun, and to the film’s credit it doesn’t feel fun at all. Conor, a former barrister and political candidate, finds himself employed as a cleaner, and Senan, haunted by nightmarish visions and a horrible secret, goes back to work at the infected camp. To maintain their place in society, both must work and regularly report to violent and discriminatory military men. The film is laced with audio snippets about attacks on the Cured, and Conor and Senan face constant harassment from citizens. Meanwhile, a savior doctor (Paula Malcomson) attempts to help those that remain infected.
Social commentary requires thoughtful attention to detail, and this post-infection world has been well-conceived. The plot and characters, unfortunately, have not. Actors handle the material (essentially haunted and/or afraid) capably, but no one character is allowed the space to develop, or is given a coherent arc. Nothing is terribly hard to follow, but it feels like chunks of the film are simply missing. The collage construction and jittery editing muddy the issue, as history and relationships are inadequately established, and plot details are held hostage for later confrontation or gotcha reveals. The final climax works, and the circumstances surrounding it are clever, but it might have been better as a second-act game-changer, with the previous material streamlined and condensed.
All of this might be defended — or even commended — as stylistic experimentation if The Cured wasn’t so unpleasant and cruel. Not just the events, where that is to be expected, but the film itself. Rather than attempt to build tension or establish real stakes, the filmmakers relay on schizophrenic editing throughout, and innumerable screeching jump-scares. So much meaningful plot and character movement happens off screen; we can’t follow along as the “Cured Alliance” gains momentum, or take time to explore the meaning of a zombie character existing half-way between Cured and Resistant, or allow Ellen Page to grapple with the idea of living with her dead husband’s brother. The Cured mostly lets characters speak in grim aphorism before loudly cutting away, as if a little bit of real connection might interfere with the larger ideas at play instead of enriching them considerably.
Fantastic Fest runs September 21st – 28th. Visit the festival’s official website.