The Cursed is a culturally problematic creature feature

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2018/02/26: Viking or Norse culture objects. Male Cranium with heavily worn out teeth. The study of archeological findings reveals that current conceptions often differ from what Vikings really were. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2018/02/26: Viking or Norse culture objects. Male Cranium with heavily worn out teeth. The study of archeological findings reveals that current conceptions often differ from what Vikings really were. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

The Cursed by writer/director Sean Ellis currently streaming on Hulu has some good moments of creature effects and scary imagery, but is ultimately too long and culturally problematic.  I am glad I didn’t watch the preview before seeing the movie because it gives away almost all of the best scares in the movie – the only thing it doesn’t spoil is the creature.  For a low budget movie (apparently $35 million is low budget as far as these things go), The Cursed features some notable actors in the lead roles, so the acting is not bad – although there is a lot of “heavy breathing” to denote fear, which gets a bit old.  Let’s get into it.

The Cursed begins with a WWI battle in which many men are gravely injured.  As the doctors remove bullets from a soldier, they find an old, cone shaped object/bullet inside him.  Also in this timeline, a woman returns to an old home, clearly to mourn someone’s passing – and her memories take us 35 years into the past to 1882.  A large manor home with children playing while the serving class bustle about is our setting.

A group of the area’s upper-class landowners meet to discuss an encampment of Romani gypsies inhabiting land that they want for themselves. The gypsies have refused the monetary offer to purchase the land they’ve received from Seamus Laurent, played by Alistair Petrie (Sex Education) who appears to be their leader, so I assume he’s the wealthiest. Admittedly, the gypsies have a claim to the land, but nothing that will hold up in court.  The men choose to send mercenaries to destroy the Romanis and their camp so the landowners (particularly Seamus) can take what they want.  The Romani gypsies (particularly an oldish woman) sense something bad is coming, and prepare “the silver” which entails melting down silver coins and forming them into the teeth of a skull. The oldish woman bespells this silver-toothed jaw into a cursed object.  When the mercenaries attack, which is effectively shot from a distance, they leave no gypsies alive, brutally turning one into a scarecrow as a warning to others, and burying another alive with the “treasure” (the silver coins and skull).

We have to stop supporting literature like The Cursed that utilizes the Gypsy Curse trope.

Here is where we need to talk about the problematic Gypsy Curse trope.  The ingredients are a nomadic gypsy clan (who are portrayed as impoverished despite the magic they possess), an old woman with foresight and power, and a curse that is done out of vengeance that also serves as a morality tale (don’t kill people mercilessly to procure their land).  The curse is usually transmittable (although not in this case) and usually ends up disproportionately affecting innocents (women and children – in this case, the innocents include the serving class).  The effect of this trope is that Romani gypsies are demonized, portrayed as revenge-focused (not justice-focused), and therefore unconcerned with collateral damage.  If the gypsies aren’t cursing people, they’re thieving, seducing, fortune-telling, or kidnapping children (as in What Josiah Saw).  Why is this a problem?  Romani gypsies are a real people with a real culture whose stereotypical literary portrayal perpetuates discrimination and segregation, particularly in Europe where storefronts have “No Gypsies Allowed” signs and France even has a repatriation policy to send the Roma people back to Romania.

The sins of the wealthy father(s) are laid upon the children and the serving class in The Cursed

In a “hit you over the head with its class commentary” kind of way, the manner in which the curse unfolds begins with the children, and then the poor.  Timmy, a boy from the village, brings a group of children (including Seamus’ children Charlotte and Edward) to see the scarecrow and establishes that they’ve all been dreaming about the silver.  He digs up the “treasure” and bites  Edward with it while under its thrall.  The bite makes Edward extremely ill, and then he disappears in the night.  Timmy meets Charlotte in the church, because of course we need to bring Christianity into this, where he tells her the silver is the same silver that Judas accepted to betray Jesus.  He put the silver in the church because he says it’s “hallowed ground” – not that this helps control the curse – and gives Charlotte a page from the Bible “in case she needs it”.  He takes one himself, which is found on him after he’s killed in a vicious animal attack, so not very effective protection, if that’s what Timmy intended.

Boyd Holbrook who plays pathologist John McBride in The Cursed
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Actor Boyd Holbrook who plays pathologist John McBride in ‘The Cursed’ (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images) /

The final piece of this puzzle arrives with pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook, The Sandman) who is looking for gypsies and appears knowledgeable about what is happening in this village.  As more people fall victim to this “wolf” (the wealthy travel by armed guard, so it is the villagers and servants paying the price for Seamus’ choices), John enacts a plan to try and control the curse before it gets out of hand – but he can’t, because then the movie would end, which it doesn’t, for almost two full hours.

Surprisingly, this review is still without spoilers, since the preview gives away SO MUCH of the movie.  Fortunately, some of the best parts of this movie are the creature effects (practical, not CGI), and they’re left out of the preview entirely.  The Cursed doesn’t have a single narrator or point of view, switching between Seamus, his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, Yellowstone), Charlotte, John, the maid, etc. which makes the story a bit all over the place.  The script could do with some editing, the commentary on classism could feel a bit less like a lecture, the religious plot devices should be leaned into or left out, and the gypsy curse should be reimagined entirely.  Otherwise, the movie is not terrible – like I said, it’s problematic.  The best scene comes about halfway through when they finally capture the attacker (John somehow suplexes it into a trap hole of spikes).  I wish there had been more of that and less of the quiet conversations and scared people breathing heavily.  The way the beginning comes around again at the end is nicely done, but is The Cursed worth two hours of your time?  I’m not so sure.

Next. So Vam is a feel-good LQBTQIA vampire flick. dark

Do you think we need to do away with the overused and culturally insensitive “gypsy curse” trope?  Sound off in the comments!