What if a zombie epidemic overran the world for years? But this is no ordinary zombie plague. Most of the virus-ridden infected can be cured and get their lives back. But can former predators and prey just go back to normal and live together afterward? Is it possible to truly forgive a loved one’s killer even when we know it wasn’t their fault?
These are the difficult questions raised by The Cured: a tragic and uncompromising film written and directed by David Freyn, and produced by and starring Ellen Page. Set an indeterminate number of years after a plague known as the Maze virus has ravaged Ireland, the surviving former infectees – or Cured, as they are now designated in society – are slowly being reintegrated into a society that doesn’t want them back. It doesn’t help that the government treats them as second-class citizens from the get-go and all manner of abuse from their military overseers is rampant. The story follows two particular Cured: Senan (Sam Keeley) and Connor (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor) who looked out for each other while devolved into barely-sentient cannibals, and continue to look out for one another as restored humans. Senan moves in with his widowed sister-in-law (Page) while Connor – a former lawyer and politician – struggles with the new lowly place in society he has been assigned. Both men carry terrible secrets along with the full knowledge of what they’ve done, and must navigate a merciless world where xenophobia, bigotry, casual violence, and domestic terrorism are now the norm. It is a movie that deals with uncomfortably familiar things and does not apologize for doing so.
As if that wasn’t enough, a more ominous and existential threat lingers: a surviving, captive population of Infected whom all attempts to cure have failed and for whom euthanasia seems to be the only option. Some think they can be saved, others that they must be destroyed, and still others that they can and should be used. The ultimate answer that emerges does not seem to benefit anybody.
The Cured is not so dark a film that it becomes too depressing to watch, or that is too traumatic to merit subsequent viewings. But it does portray the human race at its most negative throughout. All this human ugliness is made worse because it is understandable and relatable. The Cured may not be monsters, but tell that to someone who saw them slaughter someone they loved. Non-infected humans might just be scared and acting hostile out of fear, but tell that to a Cured who has to live as a brutalized outcast and almost a slave. The climax that results seems inevitable in its human banality and cathartic in its bloody execution.
Despite serving as producer and figuring prominently in promotional materials, Page is not the main character of the film. That distinction falls to Keeley in the thankless role of Senan. The earthy weariness in which he soaks his performance is palpable. You truly believe this man has seen and done unspeakable things. Page’s performance bears the same lingering miasma of trauma and guilt, and the scenes she shares with Keeley are poignant, yet also an oasis in the midst of the chaos and hate that rules the near-future Ireland in which the film is set.
The Cured, for all its blunt social commentary, is still a horror movie and unfortunately, features some characters doing stupid horror movie things. Most egregious is the fact that peripheral vision seems not to exist in this universe, and characters are repeatedly tackled by zombies coming in from the side that a real person would have easily seen. It almost becomes comical, and unfortunately does so in moments not intended to be in any way comical at all. There is also a reliance on particularly loud jump scares throughout the film. If you really love jump scares, then you will love this movie. But if you really hate them, then there are probably few movies you will hate more.
Zombie films are at their best when serving as commentary on contemporary society. This is a tradition that has been with us since the glory days of George Romero, and The Cured is the right film to carry that tradition into our dark, confusing 21st century world. It has its flaws and concessions to genre, but is ultimately an important film in the ongoing discussion about human rights and learning to tolerate and welcome our neighbor. There are several plot threads left unresolved by the time the film ends, and hopefully this hints at a future sequel. The world of The Cured is one that begs to be shown in more detail. Plus, in the real world, the struggle against the social ills it depicts are just getting started.