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Non-Review Review: The Cured

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The biggest problem with The Cured might be that the film bites off more than it can chew.

At least in their modern post-Romero phase, zombies have often been a tool of social allegory. They are a potent metaphor for any number of familiar anxieties; unchecked consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, the working class in The Land of the Dead, an insurgent enemy population in 28 Weeks Later. In many ways, The Cured feels like a logical extension for this. The story about society trying to claw its way back from the horrors of zombie apocalypse, The Cured is a bold and ambitious piece of horror movie social commentary.

A population of rehabilitated zombies raises any number of obvious parallels in the modern world. The Cured plays with a number of these ideas, using zombies as a metaphor for class anxieties and for a politically subjugated (and literally dehumanised) political population. However, the most potent metaphor at the heart of the story is to do with criminal rehabilitation and social reintegration, the challenge of how society embraces or shuns those who have committed horrible acts but are also deemed to have served their time.

Writer and director David Freyne explores these ideas in a charged and playful manner, balancing the expectations of zombie storytelling against the backdrop of a broader political allegory. Indeed, The Cured arguably suffers from a surplus of good ideas, with enough material to sustain a television miniseries crammed into a lean ninety-five minute runtime.

A lot of the charm of The Cured comes from its central premise, a concept that is smart enough and bold enough to sustain the entirety of the movie on its own merits. The Cured imagines a world ravaged by a zombie apocalypse that did not succumb to the carnage. The world survived. The plague was pushed pack. The monstrous hordes were defeated. The Cured does not open at the end of the world. It opens past the end of the world. It wonders what might happen in a society that has already endured the end of days.

Indeed, this is a recurring fascination for contemporary genre films, the notion that the apocalypse is not so much a full stop or an exclamation mark as much as a comma. Modern popular culture seems intrigued with the idea of the apocalypse as something endured rather than dreaded, of societies that have been ravaged and stumble on regardless. Logan is perhaps the best example of recent years, a film that unfolds against the backdrop of an apocalyptic world that remains eerily recognisable. Hell or High Water may be a more grounded contemporary example.

The Cured arguably belongs to this contemporary genre of apocalyptic cinema, where the end of the world is just something that happens and which cannot stop society from shuffling on in some undead form. The Cured imagines a version of Ireland ravaged by a zombie plague, but which has convinced itself that things might continue as normal. The landscape is dotted with United Nations Peacekeepers and armed special forces, marked by graffiti and simmering resentments, but it is still recognisable.

Against that backdrop, The Cured wonders what happens after the end of the world. The movie’s smartest conceptual element is the suggestion that the zombie-like infection can be cured, asking the question of how these individuals can ever be accepted back into society. The film suggests a number of charged metaphors, in particular the question of how violent criminals are reintegrated back into society and how different communities can be reconciled after horrific incidents of violence. Both are important questions in an Irish context.

The release of such violent criminals evokes the challenges of reintegrating convicted terrorists in Northern Ireland, following the end of “The Troubles.” Indeed, The Cured actively plays into this metaphor with an emphasis on military uniforms and technology as well as the name given to the zombie plague. In fact, “The Maze Virus” seems like something of a double in-joke; a reference to the infamous Belfast prison that housed Republican prisoners and a sly nod to the movie of the same title starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor set in that prison.

However, The Cured also works as a metaphor for trying to rehabilitated convicted criminals into society; the social hurdles that these offenders face in trying to rebuild a life after being released from custody. The Cured suggests a dynamic similar to the bond between inmates shared by those kept in “quarantine”, forcing those recovered zombies to live in halfway houses and subject themselves to humiliating visitations and audits. Former barrister Conor Ryan finds himself cast out by his father and reduced to working as a cleaner.

There are a wealth of great ideas here, and it is to the credit of David Freyne and his cast that he manages to work through as many of them as he does in the space afforded. There is a surprising amount of emotional depth in the arcs of the primary characters, from recovering infectee Senan to widowed survivor Abbie. At the same time, there is a sense that some of these character arcs are truncated and compacted by virtue of the format. There is a lot of plotting that needs to be covered, often feeling crowded out by the (fascinating) thematic work.

This is particularly clear in terms of plot threads following the radicalisation of certain recovered infectees, embittered by their treatment at the hands of authorities and their neighbours. This frustration escalates from anger to violence to revolution in a handful of short scenes crammed into space around the more personal story of Senan. Similarly, a subplot involving a doctor working on a cure for the remaining infected seems to exist largely as connective tissue to justify certain thematic pay-offs and genre conventions. (Similarly, a weird moment between Conor and Abbie seems like the remnant of a cut subplot.)

There is a clear sense that The Cured might have worked better as a miniseries for television, a format that would have allowed for more worldbuilding and for more measured plotting, offering an opportunity to more finely balance the varying competing demands on the script. The various plot threads in The Cured frequently seems to be competing for space with one another, struggling to breath. Freyne is shrewd enough to keep his primary characters foregrounded, so the film never loses the audience, but there is too much happening in the background to properly explore in ninety minutes.

This causes problems with the climax of the film, in which the film tries to broaden its perspective beyond those three primary characters to create a sense of national crisis. The Cured creates a compelling vision of Dublin in apocalyptic crisis, but the film hasn’t properly established the scale necessary to properly convey the sense of complete social breakdown. The climax of The Cured is messy and disjointed, feeling like it is struggling to tell a more intimate story inside the framework of a zombie apocalypse.

Still, The Cured is a clever and competent debut, a horror movie with a canny intelligence and demonstrating tremendous potential. It’s a fascinating genre flick, one into which audiences can really sink their teeth.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 3

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