At times Craven morphs into an incomprehensible Sam Raimi cover band, relying on cognitive incoherence as a cheap replacement for excitement.
It’s tragic when a celebrated filmmaker manages to plumb the absolute depths of rock bottom, but seldom has this inevitable occurrence been as baffling or hypnotic as Cursed, the ill-fated werewolf movie Wes Craven wreaked upon humanity back in 2005. Reuniting with original Scream scribe Kevin Williamson should have reaped dividends, but this messy, perpetually rewritten, reshot and re-edited clusterfuck succeeds solely as the most absurd time capsule of early ‘00s aesthetics. For a sample size, Cursed opens with Bowling For Soup performing a song about Little Red Riding Hood before hilariously segueing into being the world’s least ambitious Dear John letter to the 21st century, packed to the gills with actors like Shannon Elizabeth and R&B singer Mya. It’s like “Total Request Live” tripped and fell into a bootleg EC Comics anthology.
Cursed follows Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg, a pair of orphaned siblings living in Los Angeles. Ellie, the older sister who works on “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn,” tries in vain to connect with her nerdy teenage brother, Jimmy. The two actors, normally excellent in similar roles elsewhere, have little chemistry, and the writing does even less to make their familial bond relatable or believable. (You Can Count on Me this is not.) Ellie is in an estranged relationship with Jake (Joshua Jackson), a notorious playboy who is as unavailable emotionally as he is suspiciously lupine. He’s 45% scruff and 55% comically smoldering brood, so, you know, in a movie about werewolves, he’s a pathetically telegraphed plot twist waiting to happen. Both Ellie and Jimmy get in a car accident (somewhat mirroring the fate of their deceased parents) where a giant wolf entity scratches them, cursing each with the typical abilities cinematically ascribed to lycanthropes.
The movie is a mess, but only because it tries to be two different, shitty werewolf movies at once. Jimmy’s half of the film mirrors Teen Wolf (and, to a lesser extent, Spider-Man). He transforms from scrawny beta-male with no swag to a scrawny beta-male with not even remotely plausible amounts of strength. There’s a legitimately discomfiting love triangle between Jimmy, undercooked love interest Brooke (Kristina Anapau) and her boyfriend Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) who is later outed as gay in a particularly cringe-worthy sequence. It’s supposed to be the comedic half of the movie, but nothing that unfolds is worth even a stifled chuckle. It’s just a hollow retread of things we’ve seen in other, barely superior films.
Ellie’s half of the film is moody to the point that it’s actually hilarious. Her stop-start romance with Jake feels like random sides from an audition for a new CW series, and everything seems culled from another, less well-thought out feature. Ellie struggles at work. Ellie struggles at home. Ellie doesn’t recognize that the furry, dead-eyed saddo she’s dating is probably a fucking werewolf. Ricci usually has such a peculiar presence and a lot of range, but forcing her into this sanitized, milquetoast role is a frustrating experience. This easily could have been someone vapid like Katherine Heigl.
The background color is a lot of fun, though. The film features a murderer’s row of teen movie actors who haven’t been seen or heard from since. Some even perform quite admirably. Michael Rosenbaum makes the most of his friend zoned guy role as one of Ellie’s co-workers. Scott Baio makes a cameo, as well, but Judy Greer runs away with the whole picture as his publicist, a bloodthirsty femme fatale who seems to be the only person who recognizes the ridiculousness of the film she’s in. She’s the lone figure who notices how delicious the scenery is, so she gets right to chewing it with a charming intensity.
If the film has a saving grace, it’s the few shining moments of genuine suspense. There’s a great sequence where Mya’s character Jenny is being hunted through a parking structure by the lead werewolf and it is just everything you would want from Wes Craven making a werewolf movie. It’s measured, well composed, tightly paced and thrilling in a subdued, but satisfying way. The problem is everything else he does with the kills and the scares.
At times Craven morphs into an incomprehensible Sam Raimi cover band, relying on cognitive incoherence as a cheap replacement for excitement. It mimics the rhythms of the Scream films but with little to no thematic undercurrent to prop up the otherwise exploitive and lazy storytelling. With shifting character motivations and illogical allegiances abound, Cursed is obviously the victim of the kind of Weinstein meddling that crippled Scream 3. The climax is repeatedly drawn out with swerves and additional bits of drama that drag the third act out to absurd lengths, huge pockmarks of multiple destructive rewrites. Obviously, turning into an anthropomorphic canine makes a pretty shitty metaphor for having to raise a sibling in the absence of your parents, but you’d have at least expected some pithy commentary on premature adulthood to make the otherwise pedestrian motions less laborious to go through. You would, of course, be wrong.