The Cured review Sam KeeleyYear: 2017 (2018 US Release)
Director(s): David Freyne
Writer(s): David Freyne
Region of Origin: Ireland, France

Rating: R
Digital, Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: Once-infected zombies are discriminated against by society and their own families, causing social issues to arise. (Source)

Ironically, the zombie genre has become the very thing it was created to dissect. Instead of deepening its symbolism, it’s become a soulless husk of diminishing returns, with most stories eager to churn out the same tune over and over again. David Freyne’s The Cured is a beautifully brilliant exception to the rule. Skipping past the outbreak and far into the aftermath, Freyne’s film is about what comes next. In essence, this is humanity picking up the pieces only to find out that, as a species, we’re sadly capable of outdoing any flesh-eating virus. Bleak and uncompromising, Freyne commands killer performances and envisions a world that’s damningly too real, giving the genre a boost of emotional and existential depth.

Due to a viral outbreak, most of Ireland’s inhabitants have been turned into savage zombies. Miraculously, some are healed after a cure is discovered, while a few remain immune to the antidote. As the cured begin to reintegrate to society, however, there’s tension on both sides. Uninfected survivors can’t look at those they once loved in the same way, and the cured remember every violent, uncontrollable deed they carried out while ill. Caught in the middle is Senan (Sam Keeley), a cured man who secretly killed his brother while infected. Complicating things, his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page), and nephew Cillian (Oscar Nolan) have taken him in, desperate for some semblance of normalcy and familial connection. As Senan is torn between past and present, he’s pulled towards a man named Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), whom he killed with while ill and rehabilitated with. As the cured become the oppressed, mankind finds itself more divided than ever, and at a crossroads that will change everything.

Through and through, Freyne’s latest is rich in concept and execution, exploring a society that’s literally dying for a chance to rip itself apart. Beneath the surface is a rather smart dissection of minority struggle, discrimination, oppression, PTSD, mental illness and forgiveness – can society as a whole learn to forgive, and how do we decide who gets a second chance? With these questions at the heart of a profoundly constructed story, Freyne creates depth by wringing the dark impulses raging within each of us. As the story illustrates a cyclical nature of self-destruction, it inevitably forms into a cautionary tale of sobering urgency. And like that, Freyne has pulled off something special, eschewing standard horror shocks with something more intimate and personal. Sure, there’s still a fair amount of gore, but the lack of cheap jumps and a striking slow burn allow us to focus instead on three fascinating characters and their relationship to an imperfect, broken world.

The Cured review Ellen PageThanks to an emphasis on character, we get a trio of performances that are inescapable. As Senan, Keeley leads the film with a truly haunted soul. Thanks to Keeley’s soulful slant, we fully sympathize with Senan the entire way through, a feat considering that we know full well the sins he’s trying to atone for. On the other end, Ellen Page prevents a grieving Abbie from becoming a stereotypical victim. Despite balancing desperation and mounting inner-struggle, Page forms an intelligent, strong woman who is able to look at the bigger picture, or at least chooses to believe in the good that we’re capable of. I can easily say that this is one of Page’s best performances ever. Capping this off, Vaughan-Lawlor’s primal Conor is striking, thanks to a physical performance that evokes the darker side of human nature. Vaughan-Lawlor treads on delicate ground, making animalistic tendencies feel very real and tragically relatable.

The Cured is a more-than-worthy successor to standouts like 28 Days Later and The Girl With All the Gifts, each of which force us to confront truths we thought we’d already figured out. As in the real world, Freyne’s film makes it difficult to distinguish where good intentions go wrong, and how quickly we can become a problem rather than the solution. In the end, the film’s most damning revelation isn’t a spoilery twist or some extraordinary machination, it’s the idea that we don’t need a zombie-transforming viral outbreak to turn on each other – we do that just fine on our own.