On postwar societies, PTSD, and cured zombies as the new IRA
The Cured IFC Films
Director: David Freyne
Screenplay: David Freyne
Starring: Sam Keeley, Ellen Page, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson and Stuart Graham
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes / 2.35:1
(out of four)
I'm not saying it can't be done, but if you're fashioning a zombie movie as an allegory for postwar PTSD, with auxiliary metaphorical application to military-to-civilian transition, immigration, and the 20th Century history of political conflict and guerrilla warfare in Ireland, covered via two separate but equally crucial time periods (the outbreak itself and its years-later aftermath) ... well, maybe you need a lot more than 90 minutes to make that all work.
If it can be done in that amount of time, The Cured, at the very least, isn't the movie to make that case. Writer/director David Freyne bites off far more than he can chew (I promise that was not intended as a zombie joke when I first started typing it) (then again, I kept it in there, so ... ), which makes the final product a whole lot more interesting as a set of ideas than as an actual film. In fact, it kinda feels like he had an idea for a TV show and someone asked him if he wanted to make a movie instead. It's not often I see an ambitious movie and wish it were a series, but the specifics of the way The Cured operates - how many things it has to establish and explain, how many threads emerge from its basic premise - makes television seem like the more natural format. It would seem the extra time to do everything this story tries to do would be invaluable. This movie has two Walking Dead seasons' worth of narrative threads and backstories. Or in the UK, 37 seasons' worth.
The bulk of the film takes place after the zombie contagion has been more or less neutralized. We see the breakout in flashbacks - in particular Senan (Sam Keeley) and his brother Luke becoming infected. Luke's wife Abbie (Ellen Page) and their young son managed to avoid infection. It's been a few years; the government developed and distributed a cure for the zombie virus, which has about a 75 percent success rate. The cure is permanent, at least for those receptive to it; most of the remaining 25 percent are locked up for research purposes (scientists are still working to come up with a better cure), with a few strays lingering around, generally out of heavily populated areas.
The one wrinkle for the cured is that, while the virus may be gone, anything and everything the virus caused is there forever. They remember everything they did while infected, every person they attacked, killed, ate. Abbie - an American who's not allowed to leave the country due to laws put in place during the epidemic (laws that don't seem to be going away anytime soon, at least until the zombie scourge is permanently ended, if that ever happens) - welcomes Senan back into her home, much to the disapproval of various neighbors who still see him - and everyone like him - as a remorseless murderer.
In fact, remorse is the one thing he has to spare. Senan's face is one of perpetual despondence, his voice barely above a whisper. Bloody memories invade his conscious thoughts. He says little, eats less. His relationship with his nephew is warm but understandably hesitant; at least the boy asks the questions other adults in his life are too polite to ask. Beyond the limits of his new, temporary home, his only real relationship is with Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), one of his fellow cured. The two interact with the intimate secrecy of brothers in arms; together they've been through what no one else could understand. Throughout the movie but between Senan and Conor in particular, Freyne emphasizes the relationship of two bodies to each other, and the various meanings those relationships might have. Power, intimacy, alliance, protection, aggression. The animalistic manner of it goes without saying, but to his credit Streyne makes a strong point of it, and Vaughan-Lawlor is a particularly commanding physical presence.
Re-assimilation, The Cured's starting point and primary subject, opens up too many avenues, and asks too many questions, for most 90-minute movies to handle. Streyne doesn't so much overextend his scope as he underserves the few key areas he chooses to focus on. The probationary apparatus put in place to usher the cured back into civilization. The crises still facing the Irish citizenry in the wake of the outbreak - families, industries, communities, economies torn apart. The second-class treatment of those who've returned. A public, political dilemma surrounding scientists' continued research into zombie cures - with many questioning whether it's worth the risk, or if the remaining infected, the uncured, should simply be exterminated. And most important of all, the burgeoning underground rebellion, IRA-esque, among the cured who intend to fight back against society's mistreatment and indifference toward them in the aftermath of the infection. A civil-rights cause for the once-afflicted; a War of Independence for zombies.
And of course, that still leaves the personal stories - Conor and the father who won't speak to him; Senan keeping peace with Abbie; the researcher Dr. Lyons (Paula Malcomson) trying desperately to find a cure for her wife Jo (Hilda Fay), one of the unlucky 25 percent.
Though Ellen Page is always a welcome presence and has been put front-and-center for The Cured as its most recognizable star (at least in the States), her corner of the narrative proves the least useful to the bigger picture. Hers is an important role to our understanding of our protagonist, Senan - his guilt; his background; his, for lack of a better word, redemption. But given the way the film opens up what amounts to a postwar society - and all the problems and conflicts that arise out of that - Senan's family life comes across as frivolous by comparison, even taking into account a few key dramatic details I've left out. Again, this is a problem not of the scenes themselves - they're fine - but the limited space that contains them. They'd probably work perfectly well in a much longer version of this story.
There's a reason why 90-minute genre entries are usually very narrow in their focus. They keep things uncomplicated or condensed for a reason. More often than not, such a film is explicitly plot-oriented; its urgency is driven by precisely by that. The Cured isn't. What it tries to be instead makes it fundamentally more interesting than a lot of its genre peers, while at the same time digging itself into a hole. This is ostensibly a political movie; it's the society itself that matters - more than any backstory, any details about the zombie virus, any melodramatic connections. But instead of letting us take in this society destroyed and rebuilt by a brutal contagion - an unintended revolution of carnage and the new order that emerged from it - Freyne hurries through everything he wants to say. A lot has happened in the world The Cured depicts; a lot more is happening as a result. The film just never allows those things any room to breathe.