What happens when the undead return to life? In a world ravaged for years by a virus that turns the infected into zombie-like cannibals, a cure is at last found and the wrenching process of reintegrating the survivors back into society begins. Among the formerly afflicted is Senan (Sam Keeley), a young man haunted by the horrific acts he committed while infected. Welcomed back into the family of his widowed sister-in-law (Ellen Page), Senan attempts to restart his life but is society ready to forgive him and those like him? Or will fear and prejudice once again tear the world apart? Pulsing with provocative parallels to our troubled times, The Cured is a smart, scary, and hauntingly human tale of guilt and redemption.
Ellen Page | Tom Vaughan-Lawlor | Sam Keeley | Stuart Graham | Peter Campion
Sometime during the previous decade, the zombie film came out of the dark, musty shadows where it had resided for untold years to take the mainstream by storm. Suddenly, zombies - previously the purview of low-budget horror maestros like George Romero - were everywhere. In the process, seemingly every possible angle about these creatures was covered from the comedic stylings of Shaun of the Dead to the weekly tensions of The Walking Dead. The term "zombie apocalypse" turned into a laugh line for a radio commercial and it became difficult to imagine anyone doing anything radical or offbeat with these monsters. Irish writer/director David Freyne, making his feature debut, has at least given it the "old college try" and is more often successful than not.
In The Cured, the "zombie apocalypse" never happens. The disease that causes people to become mindless, flesh-eating creatures is found to be reversible and around 75% of the affected population can be brought back from the other side. There are drawbacks, however. First, those who are cured remember the acts they committed while infected - things like dismembering loved ones and devouring their organs. And they are regarded with skepticism, mistrust, and hatred by those who never experienced the transformation and are disinclined to explore empathic impulses. There's also the question of what to do with the remaining 25% - those who, despite the efforts of epidemiologist Dr. Joan Lyons (Paula Malcolmson), resist rejoining the human race.
The Cured focuses on two former "zombies" (although they're never specifically referred to in those terms - I don't think the "Z" word is ever used) - Senan (Sam Keeley) and Conor (Tom Vaughan-Taylor). Once reduced to mindless savages by the ravages of the so-called "Maze virus", they have been brought back to themselves and now must face a daunting attempt to recapture normalcy. Senan is a guilt-riddled, morose young man whose memories are filled with images of him killing and eating his older brother. His unstable psyche is further tortured because he has been invited to live with his brother's widow, Abbie (Ellen Page in a nicely understated supporting role), and son, Cillian (Oscar Nolan), whose losses serve as reminders of the damage he did. Abbie doesn't know about the truth of Senan's involvement in her husband's death and he's not able to summon the courage to tell her.
Meanwhile, Conor, a one-time barrister and politician, has difficulty coping with his new social status as a pariah. He starts an underground movement for those Cured who feel they have been consigned to the status of second-class citizens but violence soon becomes the currency by which they broadcast their message.
For much of the first two-thirds, Freyne adopts a thoughtful, moody tone, relegating the expected zombie-related bloodlettings to quick flashbacks that fill in the characters' stories. The allegorical central subject matter is different from what one might expect from a zombie movie and encompasses themes of guilt and cultural repression. (The movie probably plays differently in Ireland, where memories of The Troubles linger, than elsewhere.) There's almost too much going on for a 90-minute film to effectively present, especially when Freyne seemingly wants the final half-hour to fall more in line with a traditional zombie story - action and violence with a few jump-scares and a dollop of nihilism.
Senan's narrative is the best developed of what The Cured has to offer. Sam Keeley portrays the character as the shell of a man, someone who lives daily with what he did and often seems a step away from suicide. He is on a quest for redemption but can't escape the images that play and replay in his mind. Although Conor is equally as interesting for different reasons - he's a more hardened (and hardy) soul who has distanced himself from his misdeeds by perceiving them as the actions of someone else - but the screenplay rushes through many of his scenes and his political-turned-terrorist movement evolves too quickly. Likewise, the arc of Dr. Lyons, who is desperate to make the cure 100% effective, is poorly integrated into the overall story.
The Cured suffers from a common marketing problem that afflicts many horror-cross-something hybrids: it's at times too slow and existential for pure blood and gore lovers and too grotesque for those with a penchant for offbeat, idea-based allegories. And, as one might expect considering the subject matter, there's not a lot of fun to be had here. The Cured starts out dark and only gets darker. It explores not only the horrors that twist Senan's conscience but the way in which society reacts to an influx of mass murderers who have been "rehabilitated." Beyond that, it also touches on the question of whether the government has the right to euthanize hundreds of thousands of victims who resist the cure.
The Cured's bleakness amplifies its strengths because Freyne wants us to extend the circumstances of his well-defined fictional world to the schisms and bogeymen that haunt our reality. The movie is sufficiently disturbing to leave a lasting impression - one that gets stronger as we pinpoint various real-world analogs. The Cured is flawed but it's easier to forgive the problems associated with an ambitious vision than something interested only in providing an evening's distraction.