“The Cured” has too many good ideas, not enough screentime

In The Cured, David Freyne demonstrates a deep and profound understanding of where the zombie, as a monster, currently stands in popular culture. It’s a watershed entry in the now oversaturated subgenre of science horror that has tantalized movie screens and the popular imagination since George Romero’s Night of The Living Dead in 1968.

It’s a watershed in that sense that it’s looking forward into a post-Walking Dead era where the genre can no longer coast on its main shock and attraction alone. Zombies won’t be able to carry the weight of major film projects, television shows and video games simply by serving as a hazard for a group of protagonists. Already the subgenre has fallen out of critical appeal, and exists in the fumes of its previous mainstream glory. Should zombie stories continue, authors and directors will need to unpack our obsession with the undead on a deeper level and use it as a tool to get at the heart of living, breathing human stories.

By examining how society would grapple with reintroducing cured zombies into society, Freyne positions his film in that range. An Irish-U.K.-French co-production, the film is dripping with influence, both stylistically and tonally from English director Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later—easily the finest zombie film ever made. The state of terror, panic and dread executed by Boyle in that film is replicated well by Freyne.

The struggle of The Cured is where Freye looks to add something new, and it’s here where the film buckles under the weight of too many good ideas and not enough screentime. Through the brilliance of his premise, Freye teases at the types of stories that could be told—we could examine the very real prejudices of integrating those deemed unjustly dangerous into society, we could analyze relevant themes of violence and terrorism in response to cultural clash and alienation, we could spend time in the mind of a fully conscious zombie horrified by the urges they’re being forced to act out. Freye dances around all these plot points without committing to one in particular, and in the end you’re left unsatisfied without much to bite into.

This affliction falls to Freye’s cast as well. Ellen Page reads as a brilliant if not tongue-in-cheek choice for the role of an American journalist trapped by the stigma of contagion in Ireland (her legal dispute with the similarly ambitious Last of Us zombie franchise, where she argues the studio stole her likeness, comes to mind). Through Page, Freye has opportunity in a brilliant actor, to explore the importance that the media plays in times of crisis. However she is suffocated by her screen time—her nuanced and heavily relevant role is thus reduced to a few shots of her collecting B-roll.

Irish actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor delivers a giant of a performance as one of the most compelling apocalyptic villains in recent memory, but even he, in his brilliant depiction of a straight-laced politician turned terrifying new brand of eco-terrorist, is given far too little to work with.

As a stand-alone film The Cured disappoints, but it’s a preview of where zombie-fiction could and can go when writers poke and prod at our cultural obsession with zombie fiction. I expect it to be footnoted by genre vanguards and undead junkies in the years to come.