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Ellie has been taking care of her younger brother Jimmy since their parents death. One night after picking him up from a party they are involved in a car accident on Mullholland Drive. While trying to rescue a woman from the other car a creature attacks and kills her, also injuring both Ellie and Jimmy. After some research Jimmy realizes the creature could only have been a werewolf. Written by
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[walking Ellie through her transformation]
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Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are on their way home when they get into a car accident. While trying to help the other driver out of an overturned vehicle, the other driver is attacked by what Jimmy swears was a "huge man-like wolf". Both Jimmy and Ellie end up scratched and possibly bitten by the creature. When they begin noticing strange physical effects and behavior--including both of them suddenly becoming more assertive socially--they begin to wonder if a werewolf has bitten them. If so, will they turn into werewolves, too?
Cursed had a notoriously difficult time making it to the screen. It began production in 2002, then went through four major shoots with 90% of the material being tossed out at one point. Major characters, played by major actors--including Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Skeet Ulrich--were in and out of the film. Director Wes Craven even ended up abandoning the film altogether when Dimension Films chairman Bob Weinstein demanded a PG-13 cut rather than Craven's initial R. Someone else did the final PG-13 cut. As should be expected, these events appear to have harmed the film.
As the theatrical release stands, chunks of the film appear to be missing. For example, we see Jimmy and Ellie both pretty convinced that they're werewolves shortly after Jimmy first begins researching the symptoms and Ellie thinks he's being ridiculous. The transition is not convincing; there seems to be exposition missing. There are a number of such choppy, non sequitur moments. The film doesn't flow very well.
The most obvious material to be cut--during and after "attack" scenes--surely hurt the film, as well, although part of the problem with these scenes may have been Craven's fault. Like too many recent films, attack scenes are shot blurry, cut way too fast, and they're often too dark. Part of the idea might have been to make the CGI less obvious, but I'd rather have obvious CGI than incoherent scenes.
One final flaw was that the werewolf material in the film wasn't handled very clearly. Whether this was yet another editing problem or a script problem from screenwriter Kevin Williamson is difficult to say, but the film's werewolf "rules" are never well explained. For example, it's never quite clear why the werewolf would want to attack people again and why they wouldn't just be full-fledged lycanthropes the first time. Although this makes a bit more sense later in the film, werewolf "rules" are still implied that are never explained but needed to be.
But there are a number of positive aspects to the film. Craven shows that he hasn't lost his love of postmodernist reference and theatrical "wall breaking", the performances are good, occasionally the film is suspenseful (the car crash near the beginning is especially well done), and Williamson's story overall is intriguing in that Cursed is really a somewhat traditional thriller in which characters just happen to be werewolves.
Craven opens the film at a carnival, which is obviously theatrical, and quickly presents a psychic "performer" who happens to be a "real psychic", taking her job seriously rather than just providing entertainment. The parallel is to Craven as a horror filmmaker, which may often be seen as just an entertainer instead of a "real illusionist" approaching the job with serious intentions. Then he quickly takes us to a club, Tinsel, that's a veritable Madame Tussauds with a Hollywood theme, complete with full, detailed sets. There are numerous horror references in the club, including to Craven's own work, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). This emphasizes the artificiality of cinema in a way similar to the "real film in a film" conceit of Craven's New Nightmare (1994). To push this theatrical wall breaking further, many sets, such as the interior of Jimmy and Ellie's house, are lit and shot so as to emphasize their artificiality--almost as if the film were being made on the displays at the Tinsel club. Craven also has a number of characters working in the entertainment industry, and like New Nightmare, has celebrities playing themselves. As a humorous jab at filmic self-reference and comments about his use of the same in previous films, especially Scream (1996), a pivotal scene near Cursed's false climax is shot in a very artificial-looking hall of mirrors (and this is also literally reminiscent of a number of other horror films, including The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Dr. Giggles (1992) and The Haunting (1999)).
The fact that Williamson has really constructed a thriller, and it just appears to be a werewolf film, is a kind of late-film twist that provides another level of "wall breaking". It's a clever idea that has some similarities to Williamson's I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) script, which continually flirted with the gray area between thrillers and slasher flicks. Williamson also spends time exploring the dramatic consequences of Ellie and Jimmy's newfound power.
However, given the final result, at least with the cut I watched, these more intellectual touches from Craven and Williamson may have ended up being too hip for the film, which Dimension apparently wanted to sell as a more by-the-numbers horror flick geared to pull in younger teens (and a surprising amount of pre-teens in the showing I attended). I'm not usually one to complain about the existence of PG-13 (or even tamer) horror, as I do not think that gore, language, etc. are necessary for a good film. It's not that I dislike gore, but I love the first three Universal Frankenstein films, say, as much as I love the Evil Dead series, Romero's zombie films, or any of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films (and certainly more than I like, say, Andreas Schnaas' work, which has the gore but not much else). But when the result of studios pushing for PG-13 results in such an apparent botch-job, I have to add my voice to the protesters.
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