Cathy Butler fleshes out David Freyne’s horror The Cured.
Genre films often are paralleled with the social anxieties of whatever era produced them. Stoker’s vision of the vampire embodied Victorian fears of societal breakdown and moral decay. The gangster in depression-era America became the everyman beating the system and making his own success. Zombies have lent themselves to a large number of metaphorical interpretations over the years; consumerism, mob mentality, racism, cultural homogenisation. As with all popular genres, the ability to reinvigorate or subvert genre expectations can be the key to standing out in quite a saturated market.
This is something the premise of The Cured achieves from the off. The film is set in an Ireland that is attempting to pick up the pieces after being ravaged by a virus which turns the afflicted into mindless, flesh-eating creatures. A cure was ultimately formulated and administered to the infected, returning them to their original state but leaving them with the memories of the acts they committed. 5,000 infected remain resistant to the cure and are kept in a secure compound while political debate ensues around what to do about them.
Senan (Sam Keeley), one of the recently cured, is taken in by his widowed sister-in-law, Abbie (Ellen Page). A recently cured friend of his, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a former barrister-turned-politician, is rejected by his family and takes to monitoring Senan’s progress in his new life, both from near and afar. As tensions escalate between the uninfected population and the cured, Conor becomes the leader of a violent resistance cell.
Senan is the core of the film, as the dichotomy of his life is also that of the film itself. The two sides are represented by the warmth of his relationship with his nephew, which becomes key to Abbie’s trust in him, and also by the intensity of his relationship with Conor, both pre- and post-infection. Living with Abbie, Senan has the possibility of moving on from the memories that haunt him, but his complex relationship with Conor – and ultimately his connection with his infected past – looms large and threatens that prospect.
Keeley carries this narrative weight with ease. Page’s portrayal of Abbie carefully navigates the idealism her character carries in spite of great loss and how that fares when faced with the true horror of the situation. The highlight, however, is the chemistry between Keeley and Vaughan-Lawlor, Senan and Conor being in many ways the classic doppelganger, two sides of the same coin, drawn together but at war with each other. The intensity of their relationship, in common with that experienced by all infected, allows the film to be a particularly nuanced depiction of the zombie figure. What the infected experience and who they become in that state is complex and problematic.
Parallels with the rehabilitation of criminals are clear. Responsibility and atonement and whether the infected were in control are questions hanging over the narrative. The faltering of liberal ideals in the face of harsh reality are embodied in Page’s character, though that arc seems to swing back towards optimism in the rather ambiguous conclusion.
The film suggests some wider world-building while keeping its focus quite narrow, so some aspects seem a little under-developed. But The Cured is a unique and engaging reworking of an enduring genre.
The Cured screened on Sunday, 25th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).