In the grand tradition of nonalcoholic beer, four-cylinder sports cars, the Spice Channel and sky diving with an instructor clinging to your back like a remora, Cursed is the latest entry in a burgeoning subgenre: horror movies that aren’t scary, profane, violent, bloody or naked enough to earn an R rating, making them legally palatable for viewers too young or too dumb to know they’re getting hosed. The Ring, The Grudge, Alien vs. Predator, Boogeyman—this movement needs a name. Pseudogore? Diet Slasher? HorrLite? … wait, that’s Nicky Hilton.
Cursed is the brainchild of the two guys who have done more than anybody to contribute to the pancultural assimilation of the horror flick: Wes Craven, the inexplicably revered director of A Nightmare on Elm Street; and Kevin Williamson, writer of the excellent I Know What You Did Last Summer, the trend-setting Scream (also with Craven) and at least two unwatchable television series. Both of their stars have fallen in recent years, so they’re going back to the well for another reexamination of a standard horror flick mixed with pop-culture references, generically quirky humor, B-list star cameos and all manner of two-bit special effects and creature puppets.
They’re hoping you’re the type who scares easily, and laughs even easier. Cursed is about werewolves, but it’s really more of a Frankenstein’s monster of spare parts stitched together competently but pointlessly. The frights don’t frighten, most of the gags backfire, and the set pieces’ tidy sheen has absolutely none of the gritty, combustible texture of the best horror. You’re left with another joshing muse on the genre, and these two hacks have done it all before.
Ellie (Christina Ricci) is a producer on Craig Kilborn’s show (insert your own Cursed joke) who apparently lives in a picturesque house on a Hollywood back lot with her brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), their parents mysteriously absent. She’s just started dating Jake (Joshua Jackson, hilariously bearded), the mysterious owner of ahorror-themed nightclub opening soon on Sunset Boulevard. Ellie and Jimmy are heading home on Mulholland Drive (Williamson obsessively drops street names for some reason) when they hit a mysterious animal, swerveand knock Shannon Elizabeth’s car off the road. While they’re trying to rescue her before her implants ignite, a mysterious, snarling creature chews her in half and bites both siblings.
So now they’re werewolves, but while Jimmy uses his powers to trounce high-school bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), Ellie refuses to believe, instead pouring her energy into ducking Scott Baio’s obnoxious publicist (Judy Greer). Possibilities abound, but Williamson can’t stick with that standard second-act horror setup any longer than he sticks with the humor or the frights that would be necessary to make Cursed worth seeing. He takes about 10 minutes to spin a lycanthropy/homosexuality metaphor when Bo comes out the closet; it’s the funniest part of the film, and it isn’t funny. What’s more, Ricci is a poor choice for the Neve Campbell part—she’s emaciated, imperious and too ethereal to play a real person. By the way, someday I want to see her in a film in which another, better film is constantly being projected onto Christina’s expansively huge drive-in-movie-screen of a forehead. Let’s get Charlie Kaufman to work on this.
There’s no tension while the kids discover who they’ve got to kill to get back to normal, because anybody who’s seen one of these movies knows there are at least two culprits—one to reveal in the chase-through-a-scary-building finale, and another for the standard coda ending. The actual werewolves are only fright-inducing because the soundtrack spikes whenever they’re on screen; Craven uses puppets, CGI and guys wearing hairy prosthetic hands, but none of it will keep you up at night. There isn’t a single thing shocking about Cursed; it’s the most middling film yet in a genre determined to bore children of all ages.