Cursed (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Jimmy's golden retriever Zipper bites him and is turned into a spazzy, poorly CGI-ed wolf-dog, capable of ripping their house to pieces.


Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer, Michael Rosenbaum, Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, Milo Ventimiglia, Scott Baio, Craig Kilborn
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Miramax
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2005-02-25

Cursed opens with a fortune teller bearing bad news. Zela (Portia de Rossi) wears a gypsy get-up, but it's just for show. As she puts it, she "has the gift." Though Becky (Shannon Elizabeth) and Jenny (Mya) are just looking for a little fun at the Santa Monica Piers amusement park, they're not scared enough when they stumble on Zela. "Blood," she mutters, in a throaty, vaguely campy homage to Maria Ouspenskaya. "I see blood... so much blood."

Though shaken, the girls don't heed the warning (they live in a Wes Craven movie, after all), dismissing the messenger ("Lay off the crack pipe!") and proceeding to their bloody ends. These come later, when you've quite forgotten Jenny and Becky even exist, because you've been distracted by the star players, namely, tv producer Ellie Hudson (Christina Ricci) and her high-school-aged brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg). He's got a crush on a popular girl at school, Brooke (Kristina Anapau), and she has a bully of a boyfriend, Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), neither circumstance making Jimmy's dweeby adolescent existence any easier.

For her part, Ellie is a good girl who's looked after Jimmy since their parents died in an apparent car accident (vague references are made, a family photo displayed, and glances averted, but no particular back story emerges). She bears up stolidly under typical high-pressure job issues (her current gig is The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, which indicates Cursed's production framework, that is, last year). She also has boyfriend issues, having dated wealthy and notorious nightclub designer Jake (Joshua Jackson) for a couple of months, and only now learning that he's loathe to "make a commitment." His excuse at the moment is that he's just exhausted ("I am drowning in stress," he moans), because he's spent months designing a latest club, "Tinsel."

A Hollywood Planet-style joint, it features industry memorabilia, including wax figures of famous monsters (Wolfman, Pinhead, Freddy Kruger) and divas (Diana Ross, Latoya Jackson), and a few eventually-implemented-as-weapons props. The fit between the monster and divas categories is probably obvious to most of the film's viewers, as they will be looking for more of writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven's biting wit (they made the Scream trilogy). Cursed doesn't quite achieve that level, but it has moments, including several insider jokes occasioned by "Tinsel" as a visual backdrop for a late, violent showdown.

Of particular note are the allusions to Lon Chaney's Wolfman, for the curse in question is indeed lycanthropy. This much is hinted at in the film's first scene, where wildly dancing kids enjoy Bowling for Soup's cover of Sam the Sham's "Lil' Red Riding Hood." It becomes obvious when Ellie and Jimmy are driving home on the twisty, hilly Mulholland Drive, arguing about her lateness to pick him up (she blames him for not having friends to drive him places; he blames her for working too much) when their windshield is smacked by a large animal-like entity, soon to be called "the beast." Their car hits Becky's, which rolls down an embankment and flips onto its roof, and the "blood" promised her makes its appearance. Or not. Reportedly cut down from an R-rated version to a PG-13 size by studio mucky-mucks, this horror movie is short on actual gore or even much violence that's not so cartoony as to look silly, and long on spooky wind, rustling leaves, and lights going out at conveniently alarming moments.

The car wreck gives Ellie and Jimmy the chance to do a right thing: they attempt to get Becky out of her car, when the beast doesn't quite appear (a large, dark shadow makes a lot of noise and incites much frantic editing of hard-to-read images) and rips her from the driver's seat, dragging her off into the woods to have its way with her. Jimmy and Ellie come out the other end of this fracas scathed -- he has a claw slice across the chest, she has a bite on her arm. And this means they are "cursed," a term that in this film also means "infected," as the werewolf affliction appears to lie somewhere between AIDS metaphor ("I guess there's no such thing as safe sex with a werewolf," laments one victim) and bad attitude. (A smarter, if raunchier and more violent, form of this story is available in 2000's Ginger Snaps, concerning two sisters, one bitten by a werewolf and so becoming her high school's resident man-killer.)

The combined intimacy and tension between Ellie and Jimmy is Cursed's most engaging and unusual aspect, a sibling relationship exacerbated as they must cover up a shared misfortune. The film frames their lycanthropy as an infection so dreadful that it can jump species, demonstrated when Jimmy's golden retriever Zipper bites him and is turned into a spazzy, poorly CGI-ed wolf-dog, capable of ripping their house to pieces. While Ellie initially takes the denial route, Jimmy doesn't have that option; he wakes the morning after the attack naked "in the bushes," which suggests he went out rampaging during the night, though without a visible body count.

This worries Jimmy, as does his newfound taste for raw meat and fighting back against Bo's abuses (Jimmy worries that he is so eager to wrestle Bo, even to toss him in the air and throw him to the ground). Ellie, meantime, adapts to some changes, as her new inclination to wear slinkier outfits earns compliments from her coworker Kyle (Michael Rosenbaum), who calls her "saucy!" She's even glad that now she feels more able to take on Jake's former squeeze and "psycho publicist" Joanie (the ever game Judy Greer), who becomes the stand-in target for all things bad about the movie industry. Hardly troubled by her new ability to sniff out (and lust after) someone's bloody nose, Ellie only starts to fret when her body hurts and her veins pop out. She's inclined to dismiss her scary dream, in which, unable to control herself, she savages Jake's neck.

Jimmy's approach is more head-on: he starts researching on the internet. Here he learns some basic useful facts, like how to kill werewolves (you need to separate the head from the body). He also faces what turns out to be the movie's cleverest turn of events, though borrowed from any number of sources (Buffy's coming out to her mom as a Slayer being most memorable). When a friend decides to come out to him (as gay), assuming that Jimmy, so girlishly recessive for so many years, is similarly inclined, Jimmy has to go through his own self-identification. "I'm not gay," he explains, "I'm cursed! I'm a werewolf." When the other boy persists, trying to kiss him, Jimmy sighs, exasperated. "I'm appealing, it's part of the curse."

Such exchanges suggest that, as has been widely reported, Cursed was once a different movie. Given that it was scheduled to be released last year, the cast went through changes, and the screenplay was revised during production, it's not surprising that it's so jumbled. Sadly, this cursedness has not resulted in much appeal.

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