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Imagine World War Z is finally over and humanity is left picking up the pieces — or more like the body parts — as the planet recovers from a horrific zombie plague.
That’s the premise of writer-director David Freyne’s debut feature The Cured, which follows a handful of characters who survived the bloodbath and are dealing with some serious PTSD, not to mention flesh-eating withdrawal for those who have been transformed back to normal. It’s a clever concept that’s fairly well executed, if a tad contrived in spats, with tension that slowly boils to the surface as the zombies inevitably come back for a bite. After a premiere in Toronto, the film should serve as a decent calling card for Freyne’s next endeavor.
Set in Ireland after 75 percent of the population has been cured of the deadly Maze virus, leaving 25 percent still infected, the story follows the recently rehabilitated Senan (Sam Keeley), who’s trying to reintegrate society after his long night of the living dead. He shows up on the doorstep of his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page, who also produced), a widowed mother who lost her husband to the plague and is now stuck fending for herself, while also documenting the country’s transition to a post-zombie lifestyle.
The film adopts a very matter-of-fact, Children of Men-esque approach to the world in which Senan and other former flesh eaters — including the menacing, politically ambitious Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) — find themselves. There are evil military men who constantly harass the cured, pockets of anti-zombie protestors and insurgents, support groups for recovering zombies that soon turn terrorist and incurable zombies trapped in a prison where a doctor (Paula Malcomson) tests them for a new antidote. (The warring factions recall the Troubles that beset Ireland for several decades, and there’s even a scene of someone pipe-bombing a home IRA-style.)
Such social commentary feels a bit forced on a movie that does a better job at scaring us than at making us think, with Freyne tossing in flashes of ear-shattering violence to show Senan remembering what life was like before he was cured. They’re classic jump-out-of-your-seat moments that rely a lot on heavy sound effects, but they manage to be effective, building toward an explosive third act that brings the pain in the manner of 28 Days and other stalwarts of the genre.
Performances are strong, with Page fully committed to playing the major non-zombie character and Keeley (Burnt) rather convincing as a young man too shocked by his blood-thirsty past to move ahead. Everyone is extremely serious, which can be a bit of a drag at times, but as a study in trauma The Cured has its moments and the film plays best when it remains intimate.
Tech credits are tight in all departments, with Piers McGrail capturing the action in gritty handheld shots and sound designer Jens Rosenlund Petersen (’71) making everything pop (although the mix at the Toronto premiere felt rough in places). Makeup depicts the walking dead less as monsters than as suffering hospital patients, and this may be one of the first horror movies where you may wind up preferring the zombies over actual people, who can be the real hell.
Production companies: Tilted Pictures Ltd., Bac Films
Cast: Sam Keeley, Ellen Page, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Director, screenwriter: David Freyne
Producers: Rory Dungan, Rachel O’Kane, Ellen Page
Executive producers: Conor Barry, Aaron Farrell, John Keville
Director of photography: Piers McGrail
Production designer: Conor Dennison
Costume designer: Tiziana Corvisieri
Editor: Chris Gill
Composers: Rory Friers, Niall Kennedy
Casting directors: Thyrza Ging, Louise Kiely
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Sales: WME, CAA (U.S.), Bac Films (non-U.S.)
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