Thursday, April 14, 2016

There’s No Such Thing As Safe Sex With A Werewolf

Year: 2005
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

There’s a reason Wes Craven took a six year break from feature filmmaking after 2005. Two of his films came out that year. One was the excellent airborne thriller Red Eye. The other was Cursed, a Kevin Williamson-penned werewolf thriller. On paper, it’s a match made in Heaven. The duo had previously collaborated on the massively successful Scream trilogy, which reinvented the slasher genre. Why not do the same thing with Craven’s first foray into werewolf mythology?

There was just one little thing in the way… The Weinstein Company. What should have been a nice and easy teenybopper shoot grotesquely stretched into a two and a half year nightmare of reshooting, rewriting, recasting, and general meddlesome nonsense that twisted the film into a wholly unrecognizable form. It started off as a normal movie, but ended up a misshapen monster.

I suppose the real werewolf is the movie itself.

In Cursed, Ellie Myers (Christina Ricci) is a late night talk show producer who takes care of her high school-aged brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg, already Social Networking it up) after their parents died. She is dating Jake (Joshua Jackson), a lothario who is opening a horror-themed club (because Kevin Williamson), and who has been pulling away as of late, much to her chagrin. After Ellie and Jimmy get into a car accident, they witness a young woman (Shannon Elizabeth) being mauled by a giant wolf, and both of them get scratched in the process.

Over the next two days, during the full moon, they begin to exhibit increasingly wolfish tendencies. Ellie is freaked out by her sudden aggression and attraction to blood, but Jimmy has a great time Teen Wolfing it up with his heightened sexual charisma a (AKA flat-ironed hair. This was 2005, after all) and newfound athletic prowess. But a werewolf keeps attacking people around town. Is it one of them? The original wolf that cursed them? Or somebody else entirely?

You know how it is in Hollywood. Every waiter you get is either an aspiring actor or a werewolf.

Although it’s almost impossible to discern a film in the finished product of Cursed, there is a 100-minute block of images and sound in front of us, so let’s talk about it.

The two year delay didn’t help much, but even in 2003 Cursed would have felt way too 90’s. Kevin Williamson’s particular brand of postmodern winking worked in 1996, but sarcasm’s lease hath all too short a date. Cursed is chock full of weird rock band cameos (go Bowling for Soup!), movie references, and too-polished teenspeak, stuff which was getting unfashionable by the time the millennium rolled around, but in the post-Saw period was downright humiliating.

And I hate to say it, but the script just isn’t very good. Obviously, it has been cobbled together from about 19 different drafts, which would explain the jumbled structure, the jerry-rigged romance between Ricci and Jackson, and the two finales in a row that proudly contradict each other. But the script is putrid all the way down to the dialogue, and there just ain’t no excuse for that.

Most of the teen scenes are preoccupied with exuberant homophobia, culminating in this mid-wrestling match gem: “You know the best thing about being a fairy? Getting to fly,” which is deeply offensive on both a personal and a syntactical level. Cursed is packed with this kind of anemic quippage (my personal favorite being “You’re playing games with us… Well, play this!”), finally exhausting Williamson’s seemingly endless reserves of arch wit. It’s telling that he too would retreat from motion pictures for over half a decade following Cursed’s release.

It seems like this film really was… cursed.

Pretty much everything in Cursed is underwhelming, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a central problem within the infinite vicious cycle of blame. The actors are subpar (especially the bland Ricci and Portia de Rossi, who is hideously miscast as an ominous fortune teller) because their characters were crumbling beneath them as the script was cannibalized by the writer, who was working with a harried director, who was being squashed under the pressure of producers, who didn’t like the script, and on and on and on. It’s an unsolvable Sphinx riddle. At this point, it would have been better if it hadn’t gotten a release at all.

All that being true, it must be said that while nothing in Cursed could really be called good, it’s not quite so rotten as I’m making it sound. Sure, it’s a wretched, hybridized monstrosity, but during the bulk of its run time it’s merely mediocre rather than actively terrible. Craven manages to milk some suspense out of several sequences, especially in the initial wolf attack, which features a jump scare that is the single most effective scene in the film. His stalk sequences see him pulling a lot of old tricks out of his toolbag (scraping claws a la Freddy Krueger, things subtly going wrong in an increasingly dream logic manner), but there’s a reason they were put in there in the first place: They work.

Cursed also features a terrific entry in the Craven/Williamson canon of loony killer reveals when the werewolf turns out to be [SPOILERS Judy Greer], who gives the best performance in the film once outed as a psychopath, final proving that there was something comedic lodged in the script that could actually click when a performer got a crack at it. This scene also provides the second best moment of the film, some werewolf body shaming that is deliciously over-the-top and lampoons the Hollywood lifestyle at a level the movie had been feebly attempting to reach for an hour and change.

The only thing that never ever works in Cursed is the werewolf itself, which feels like a pretty big oversight. While the original effects were provided by FX genius Rick Baker, who pulled off An American Werewolf in London without anything remotely resembling the technology of 2003. Yet for some unfathomable reason he was yanked from the project and replaced by KNB, whose work would be plastered over with crappy CGI. To be fair, the computer work here is a smidge better than a lot of recent lazy CGI (here’s lookin’ at you, The Hobbit), but the werewolf looks far too much like Bobo the Bear to be menacing.

Seriously, they could be brothers.

With that, let’s leave Cursed to rot in peace. It’s a pitiful creation that doesn’t deserve all the stellar people who worked on it. It’s not the worst film of Craven’s filmography, but it’s the one where his creativity and humanity are least apparent, which is far more damning than simply being crappy.

TL;DR: Cursed is an endlessly fiddled-with film that wouldn’t have been good in its original form.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1150

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