This month’s full moon abuts St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s only natural for me to tackle a werewolf film set in Ireland. It’s also natural that I made a point of seeing The Cursed — formerly Eight for Silver — in theaters last month in spite of the fact that I knew it would likely be out of them by the time the next full moon rolled around. After all, if I can’t be counted on to show up for opening weekend of a new werewolf movie, who can?
A film with atmosphere to burn and the patience to let the viewer soak it all in, The Cursed opens in 1917 in the trenches of World War I where an officer is rushed to a field hospital after getting shot, but the surgeon pulls out more bullets than went in — and the last one is made of silver. Coupled with the wounded man deliriously repeating a child’s nursery rhyme, this sparks a flashback to 35 years earlier, when an Irish landowner made a fateful decision regarding a caravan of Roma who had a legitimate claim on a parcel of land near his settlement.
All seems resolved when Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) has the camp torched, the men, women, and children shot while they flee, and an example made of two who don’t. A young man has his hands and feet chopped off and is hung up like a scarecrow. An old woman is buried alive clutching the set of silver wolf’s teeth she had fashioned by the camp’s blacksmith in anticipation of trouble. She also spends her dying breaths pronouncing a curse on everyone present, so it can’t come as too much of a surprise when, much like Freddy Kruger would two centuries later, a certain sinister scarecrow begins haunting the dreams of their offspring. And what of those silver teeth? Well, all it takes is for one of the boys (named Timmy, improbably enough) to dig them up and stick them in his mouth for all hell to break loose.
Seamus, in particular, is put out by this because his son Edward is the one bitten by Timmy and immediately falls ill. In short order, though, he’s up and about and running amok in the woods, much to the distress of his mother Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) and sister Charlotte (Amelia Crouch), who’s never in any danger since she’s alive and well in 1917 to look back on the strange events of 1882. For while writer/director/cinematographer Sean Ellis hasn’t fashioned a werewolf movie in the traditional sense, anybody who gets bitten by the silver teeth and survives turns into a monster, and anybody who’s injured by them and survives becomes a monster, and so on.
Ultimately, it takes the intercession of traveling pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) to tell Seamus and his people what they’re dealing with and order the silver teeth to be melted down and turned into bullets, an act of transformation that models those who have the misfortune to fall victim to its curse. Of course, as The Cursed demonstrates, there are some who deserve everything they get.