You Better Buckle Up for ‘The Cursed’

This taut, terrifying shocker will make even genre veterans squirm in their seats

It doesn’t take long for “The Cursed” to yank audiences out of their comfort zones. Hard.

The shocker shows war-time surgeries that are blunt and disturbing. There’s a point to the horrific visuals, though, one that bookends a story that recharges some classic horror tropes.

That dedication, and a director fully versed in genre essentials, make “The Cursed” a treat for those tough enough to tolerate its shocks. That may winnow out a fair share of viewers.

THE CURSED | Official Trailer | In Theaters February 18

The story begins during World War I but quickly steps back into the late 1800s. We meet an affluent French family whose patriarch (Alistair Petrie) stages a one-sided war against a nearby community over a land dispute.

Might makes right, apparently. It’s one of the most disturbing sequences you’ll see all year, captured from a distance in one excruciating shot.

Those atrocities tie directly into the horrors to come. The family’s young son goes missing, local children suffer similar, disquieting dreams and a pathologist is summoned to put the puzzle pieces together.

John McBride (Boyd Holbrook, “Logan”) brings his own baggage to the mystery. He uncovers something haunting, a threat that could enveloped the community if it’s not stopped in its tracks.

What exactly are those tracks, though?

Neither “The Cursed,” nor its original title, “Eight for Silver,” do the film justice. That’s a marketing miscue, and nothing to detract from the main event. The film is relentless and satisfying, an expertly crafted yarn that uses every element to keep us engaged. The score is unsettling but spare, the sound design perfectly chilling.

Performances are solid across the board, although no one character pops as much as he or she should. The scares are the main attraction, not veteran performers like Kelly Reilly, cast as a mother processing her young son’s disappearance.

Writer/director Sean Ellis (“Anthropoid”) shows a rich understanding of the genre: tone, setting, scares and more are handled with confidence.

Meet the Artist: Sean Ellis on EIGHT FOR SILVER

And it is punishing from start to finish.

Audiences aren’t easily distributed these days. We’ve been desensitized to on-screen suffering. Ellis and co. slice and dice right through that emotional callus. Sometimes it’s how Ellis stages an attack, with grim and brutal efficiency. Or, it might be in the way the horrors are delivered with matter of fact certainty.

You know it’s coming, and it still makes you squirm.

The story itself is simple enough to follow, but we’re still left with story threads that enhance the experience. We get a sense of how this family operates, from a wealth of privilege and, yes, love. There are monsters here, no doubt, from the creature in question to the man who unleashed hell on a tiny community.

RELATED: HiT Movie Review: ‘Hereditary’

“The Cursed” traffics in werewolf lore, including the silver teeth shown on the poster. It still finds ways to invigorate that monstrous legacy, particularly a body horror twist that brings pathos to the story.

Ellis refuses to turn the slaughter of innocents into something political. The horrors on display speak for themselves, as do the ramifications that follow. We’re not spoon fed anything here, although keen observers can read layers into both the story and its sub-compartments.

Chances are we’ll be watching “The Cursed” more than a few times, uncovering something new every time.

HiT or Miss: “The Cursed” may sound generic, but the specificity it brings to its frights makes it a horror treat.

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