‘Cursed’ unoriginal but brilliantly done

It’s a difficult thing to make a werewolf movie anymore. It’s a genre that’s been explored extensively over the last several decades, and there isn’t a lot of new ground left. Of all the movie monsters, werewolves have some of the most restrictive rules. They only turn into monsters for a very brief window of time, and this makes it difficult to work them into a story that hasn’t already been done countless times in other werewolf movies. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson (“Scream”) and horror mainstay Wes Craven tackle the genre in “Cursed.” The result is not groundbreaking, but highly entertaining nevertheless.

“Cursed” is the story of a sister and brother who are still dealing with the death of their parents in a car accident. Ellie (Christina Ricci) is the buttoned-down responsible one, and Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) is the picked-on high school student that no one listens to. The duo’s lives are complicated when a werewolf mauls them both. Soon they both bear the mark of the beast, start getting superpowers and come to realize a werewolf is targeting them.

Williamson’s screenplay demonstrates a deep understanding of werewolf lore and the horror genre in general. The plot is utterly predictable, save for a last-minute twist that comes out of nowhere. The plot is serviceable, but there is nothing original or surprising about it. The plot is not the important thing here, though. What is important is the delightful dialogue that Williamson churns out in every scene, his horror sensibilities that inform the movie and his clever toying with the werewolf genre. The movie is staunchly tongue-in-cheek, but the horror element is never short changed. The tone of the movie is reminiscent of “Scream” in its oscillations between creepy and humorous.

Williamson’s attention to detail is what ultimately gives the movie its brain. We’ve all seen the werewolf thing done to death, but Williamson finds ways to present the same old plot points in interesting new ways. A great example of this is when Ricci’s character, after being infected by the wolf, is at work and smells something delicious. She sniffs her way through the office and eventually finds a woman with a bloody nose. It’s these highly original permutations of the werewolf story that make “Cursed” so much fun for horror fans.

Of course, none of that would mean a thing if we didn’t believe the characters. Thankfully, an excellent cast rounds out the film. Ricci is always a joy to watch, and not just because of the looks. In “Cursed,” she invests a stock character with individuality and humanity. Eisenberg is equally watchable. The rest of the cast is populated by supporting characters that, while unoriginal, are adeptly written and acted.

The werewolf effects in “Cursed” were impressive. The film employs a wonderfully orchestrated mix of computer graphic effects with a guy in a costume, and the effect is almost always good. There are a couple of shots that don’t work, but the vast majority of them work very nicely. Think of the wolves from “The Howling” with a lifelike range of movement. It was often difficult to discern what was costume and what was CG.

A really fun fringe benefit of “Cursed” is its humorous integration of real celebrities. There are several cameos where celebrities play themselves. This does not seem gimmicky because Ellie works at “The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn.” When celebrities do show up, they have a good reason to be there. Rather than mugging for a minute or two, they are foils for Ellie as she struggles with her new wolfen self.

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While nothing special, “Cursed” is a true delight for horror fans or people who think they might like a werewolf movie. Its lack of originality is completely compensated for by the skill and verve with which it is executed.