When you make horror movies for a third of a century, you are likely to lay the occasional egg. With his latest, Wes Craven serves up a particularly scrambled mess.
The legendary director reached what arguably could be called his innovative apex about a decade ago (now that’s scary) during the fertile period in which he capped his Freddy Kruger franchise with the teasingly conceptual “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (’94) and inaugurated another with the self-referential “Scream” (’96). With “Cursed”, Craven takes a halfhearted stab at recycling the Scream formula but the result is, at best, a celluloid whimper.
Christina Ricci stars (that’s kind of scary too, isn’t it?) in the self-referential saga of an orphaned brother and sister who are attacked by a werewolf following a highway accident and-well, you know how this works-slowly but surely realize that they are turning into werewolves themselves.
The brother is played by Jesse Eisenberg. He’s a bit of a geek so (a) he’s not unhappy when he starts developing superhuman strength and sensory powers. They prove handy when it comes to dealing with the high school bully who dates the teen babe of his dreams. Also (b), being a geek, he accesses a wealth of lore on werewolves and their ways on the Internet and at his local library even as he’s becoming one.
That’s as close to a core joke as we get in “Cursed”. Just as the young people in the “Scream” series joked about the unwritten rules which governed the slasher genre at the same time as they were falling victim to them, Eisenberg and his sister banter at great length about the protocols relating to the mythical world of lycanthropy even as that world becomes their own. Some of that banter is borderline droll. Most of it makes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” look like something out of Oscar Wilde. The script, sad to say, is the work of Kevin Williamson (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”), once the king of the ironic Hollywood horror film. He’s fallen on hard times in recent years and reaches what arguably could be called his innovative nadir with this lackluster undertaking.
Low points include Eisenberg waking up naked in his backyard the morning after he’s attacked and scrambling up the front of his home into his bedroom window as his neighbor looks on dumbfounded; He and Ricci immediately develop a craving for raw meat, which they indulge even as they initially refuse to accept the truth about what’s happening to them; At work, Ricci suddenly asks a friend, “What smells so great?” and sets off to find out. One can’t help but feel embarrassed for the Ice Storm star as she slinks from cubicle to cubicle sniffing coworkers until she finds one who’s nursing a juicy nosebleed. This is only one of several instances in which Williamson seems to get his werewolf and vampire lore confused.
The whole jokey, self-referential thing doesn’t work. The script and acting are hapless. The picture’s pointlessness is underscored by pointless cameos courtesy of Craig Kilborn and Scott Baio (definitely scary). Which leaves special effects as the only possible saving grace. Unfortunately, more of the film’s budget seems to have gone into luring Baio out of retirement than into state of the art CGIs. You don’t get a full-on look at the creatures in Cursed often but, when you do, what’s most likely to shock is the lazy, cartoony fashion in which they’re rendered.
All in all, an off day for the director destined to join the ample ranks of his forgettable fare alongside misfires of fright like “Chiller”, “Shocker”, “Invitation to Hell”, “Deadly Blessing” and “Deadly Friend”. A better title for this one might’ve been “Deadly Dull”.
Not that it doesn’t make movie history. Until this past Friday, the worst werewolf film ever made was, hairy hands down, Mike Nichols’ “Wolf”. “Cursed” now assumes that dubious distinction and someone is going to have to try very hard to wrestle it away.
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