A fascinating strain in literary criticism holds that gothic fictions such as “Wuthering Heights,” “Dracula,” “The Turn of the Screw” and “Rebecca” are at least partly a way to express collective guilt over the bloody sins of colonialism and slavery: the return of the oppressed as well as the suppressed. Many of the stories are about a foreign or exiled character, often described as “dark” or “swarthy,” coming to (or returning to) a European country, usually England but not always, to bring drama and havoc to comfortable rich people. “The Cursed” fits within that tradition. It’s surely no accident that the guilty dreams followed by overwhelming violence are initially concentrated among the young: there is even a line about the sins of the parents cursing or “infecting” subsequent generations.
On top of all that, Ellis has fun playing around with the visual aspects of werewolf lore. Pathologist John McBride (John Holbrook) is a soulful, sad Van Helsing-type who’s there to help battle a phenomenon that he saw play out in his own hometown, claiming the lives of his wife and daughter. There’s a bit of crossover with the zombie film (and two years and counting of Covid-19 denialism) with locals initially refusing to understand and accept that there’s a thing out there that can kill you, and that even if you don’t die from it, you can spread it to others, and then they’ll go out and kill, too. Some of the gory and gooey special effects are also reminiscent of the various versions of “The Thing,” a monster film that was also a pandemic movie.
It’s all so rich—and so richly executed by Ellis, a total filmmaker—that one wishes it added up to more than a series of smart variations on certain type of film. The movie clocks in at less than two hours, but as grateful as one may be for relative brevity in the age of blockbuster bloat, there are times when you may wish that the filmmaker had taken more moments to expand upon one of the many intriguing ideas contained in his script, and follow his own best impulses as an allegory-maker by not copping out at the end of the story or prizing narrative neatness over nightmarish resonance. Considering all its varied ambitions, this is a movie that should lodge in your brain and haunt your dreams for the rest of your life, not send you away thinking how handsomely produced and neatly constructed it was.