Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan


Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 2, 2005

Directed by Wes Craven/written by Kevin Williamson/starring Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer, Michael Rosenbaum, Shannon Elizabeth/Dimension Films

A brother and sister…damn, I’m having the hardest time writing this. What the hell is this movie about, anyway? It’s a werewolf movie, OK?

Wes Craven is one of those guys I want to root for, in spite of everything. His work has always been hit-or-miss with me, and it seems like for every good movie he’s made, he’s churned out at least three clunkers. I’m fully aware of this. But I keep going to his movies anyway, in the hope that they’ll at least be interesting to watch, and maybe a little more if I’m lucky. Some would say I’m cautiously optimistic, others would call me foolish. I wonder what the difference is.

And so it is that I wandered into Cursed, knowing full well the buzz has been horrendous. The film was delayed several times. They started shooting, stopped halfway through and rewrote the script and reshot everything, essentially making a completely different movie. Then they cut it down from an R to a PG-13. Good Christ, did I actually think this was going to be good? Well…no. Not really. But I thought it might be interesting.

I was mistaken. Cursed is a complete failure, but not an interesting one. I don’t know what they originally intended, but it couldn’t have been much worse than what they wound up with. I can pretty much guarantee that I would rather have seen their original idea, whatever it may have been, than what wound up on screen.

Cursed is so bad that other bad movies should build a shrine to it and pray to it at night.

This misguided mess is about (if it’s about anything) two siblings, Ellie (Ricci) and Jimmy (Eisenberg) who don’t look at all like products of the same gene pool. They live in LA and their parents are dead. Ellie works as a segment producer for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (which should already give you some idea of how dated this movie is), and Jimmy is your typical high-school geek. Ellie is dating some guy (Jackson) who’s opening a hip new club with a wax-museum theme. Because the kids just love hokey old wax museums.

One night Ellie and Jimmy get into a car accident with some random girl who looks like Shannon Elizabeth, and as they attempt to rescue her from the car she is dragged away by a big hairy beast that we can’t see, even though we all know what it is. Ellie and Jimmy are scratched by the you-know-what and start going through gradual changes. Jimmy becomes more powerful and confident, despite the fact that he’s still half the size of every other guy in school. Ellie suddenly becomes more attractive to men, despite the fact that she looks exactly the same as she did before.

Of course they soon realize what’s going on. Jimmy believes it at first, but Ellie doesn’t, and he has to convince her and blah blah blah. Jimmy gets all his info on werewolves from books and the Internet – why he doesn’t just rent one of the dozen of werewolf movies that have come before, I don’t know. Given that this was written by the guy who wrote the Scream movies, he should have just rattled off what happened in the Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, etc. Where’s Jamie Kennedy when you really need him?

You probably think you know exactly where this is all going – and you do. Ellie and Jimmy have to find and kill the head werewolf before they fully transform. They never consider the possibility that being werewolves might be better than their current situation, which pretty much sucks. Not that I’d really want to be a werewolf, but it only seems to improve their lives and make them happier. So what’s the problem?

OK, so it’s pretty straightforward stuff. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the execution of the idea that stinks up the joint. Craven and Williamson don’t seem to know what they want this movie to be, so it winds up being nothing in particular. If they intended Cursed to be a postmodern, Scream-style riff on the werewolf subgenre, they failed because it isn’t particularly funny and doesn’t have anything new to say about werewolves. If they intended it to be a straight horror flick, they failed because it’s not the least bit scary or even vaguely disturbing. I’m sure that cutting the gore scenes didn’t help in this regard, but I doubt that leaving them in would have saved the movie either.

The problem is, Cursed really isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have anything to say about its characters, who aren’t particularly interesting, and it doesn’t have anything to say about werewolves. It seems like they chose the monster at random – it could’ve been a vampire or a demon or a poodle with rabies.

Don’t get me wrong, I know what they were going for. The theme of the movie is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and I only know this because that’s the tagline on the movie’s poster. Ellie starts out the movie as a pushover, becomes more confident after the wolf scratch, then goes through the ordeal of killing the werewolf that, I guess, makes her stronger in the end. At least that must be what we’re supposed to think. Most people would probably be traumatized for life by this experience (“what doesn’t kill you fucks you up for a really, really long time”), but this is a horror movie, so it’s cool. Same thing goes for Jimmy. Fine, we get it.

The problem is, the movie isn’t very effective at getting that across. That’s not a theme, that’s a bumper sticker. Ellie and Jimmy are weak characters, not because they’re weak people but because they’re one-dimensional and boring. Then again, so is everyone else in the movie. Apparently we’re supposed to root for them to assert themselves and “take charge of their lives” and all that self-help nonsense, but we don’t because everything that happens in the movie seems so random and thrown together from various teen-horror movie clichés. We recognize that this is what we’re supposed to be feeling, but we’re not actually feeling it.

It might have helped if Williamson had bothered to give his characters some interesting backstories or original traits. We don’t really know anything about Ellie and Jimmy, other than the sketchiest of outlines. For instance, we know that Jimmy likes alternative music, but only because he has a ton of posters and stickers on his bedroom wall. We never see him listening to music or hear him talking about music. We’re just supposed to fill in the blanks ourselves. That’s just lazy writing. It’s like identifying someone based on the kind of T-shirt they wear. “Now you know everything about this person!” Isn’t there some kind of “alternative” crowd at his high school he could hang out with, based on common interests? I guess they never thought about that. Is he an aspiring musician or music journalist? Or does he just collect posters and stickers to have something to put on his wall? We don’t know.

The acting in the movie is mostly flat and lifeless, with much of the young cast looking miserable and/or grateful for a paycheck. Not that they have actual characters to play or anything, just “types”. The entire cast seems picked at random, like the casting director just took the first relatively well-known young actor who’d work cheap. They seem stranded by the material, like they’re not even sure what they’re supposed to be doing. And there are some good actors here that are completely wasted, like Rosenbaum (some girl in the audience actually yelped, “that’s Lex Luthor! Oh my god, he has hair!”) and Greer, who’s actually a very funny and talented actress (but not here). Joshua Jackson, a veteran of Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek TV series (which I never actually watched a whole episode of myself), looks like he just got out of rehab and he’s desperately searching for a drink. Ricci and Eisenberg are just annoyingly petulant whenever they’re on screen together, which is much of the movie. I know a lot of guys find Ricci sexy, but all I can see when I look at her is little Wednesday Addams. I’m such an old man.

The way the plot plays out alternates between thunderingly stupid and head-scratchingly bizarre. There’s a lot of talk about relationships without any of the characters actually having one. It’s like WB-drama material circa 1997, acted with all the subtlety of a badly directed high-school play. The one clever twist in the entire thing is when the homophobic jock wrestler who’s been bullying Jimmy comes out of the closet (there, now you don’t have to see the movie), but even that doesn’t actually go anywhere. There’s a lot of pseudo-drama over Jimmy’s crush on Brooke, the gay wrestler’s girlfriend (go figure). She’s cute and you can understand the kid’s attraction to her, but if she’s so smart and cool, why does she hang out with such assholes? Dude, she’ll probably make your life a living hell. And why is the jock so convinced that Jimmy’s gay when he’s obviously interested in Brooke? I’m no expert on gay men, but I’m pretty sure most of them won’t hit on your girlfriend. I could be wrong.

Then there’s the coup de grace, the one thing that makes Cursed stand out as not being just a bad movie but a truly Bad Movie. In its woeful attempt to be hip, Cursed actually has an unnecessary subplot featuring…Scott Baio. Yeah, Scott Baio. As himself. Because the kids today just love that Chachi! Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? If they had him playing an actual character, a little cameo as someone’s Dad or something, that might have actually been funny and/or cool. But the movie’s big “celebrity cameo”, the guy Ellie has to pre-interview for an appearance on the Kilborn show, is Scott freaking Baio? I’m actually stunned by this. Craven expects this movie’s target audience to recognize someone who stopped being famous before they were even BORN? If this was meant to be an inside joke, it failed miserably. (To his credit though, even Baio looks embarrassed to be in this movie.)

By the time we finally find out who the werewolf is (a revelation that’s supposed to be a big shocker like the endings of the Scream movies, but is more like a Murder She Wrote episode), we really have lost all interest. Which is good, because it seems like they picked the identity of “the killer” out of a hat. When so many of the supporting characters are such cookie-cutter red herrings, it really doesn’t matter who the monster is. It could be anybody, and really, who cares? Although I was half hoping it would turn out to be Craig Kilborn, that at least would have been a novel twist. And it would explain his early departure from his show. Don’t give up your day job, Craig. Whoops…too late.

How are the effects? The effects suck. The CGI sucks. The lack of gore and nudity sucks. Everything about this movie sucks. There is really no reason on Earth to see Cursed. I appreciate movies like this when they are done well. Cursed is not done well. Not at all. I wonder if Dimension gave Craven such a hard time that he just stopped giving a shit. It’s a good thing he’s already shooting his next movie, because a flop like this could kill off his career once and for all.

But I will say this…it’s still better than Vampire in Brooklyn.

* 3/2/05


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