Werewolves just aren’t scary anymore. It’s hard to get worked up about a monster regularly displayed on the back of kids’ cereal boxes. It’s even harder when you can’t shake the image of Michael J. Fox as an unconvincing basketball player. Overexposure isn’t the only problem though. Werewolves just seem too cuddly to be scary. Perhaps it’s because television has taught us from a tender age to trust and love fuzzy animals. When I see an overgrown canine growling at me from across the screen, I just want to help it take a bite out of crime.
Still, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, the creative team behind 1996’s Scream, deserve some credit for trying, more for giving up. Cursed, their first attempt at a new horror franchise, was rewritten and reshot three times with major plotlines completely overhauled. The result is a lighthearted film that is never boring but never all that engaging either.
Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg star as siblings who, after being attacked by a werewolf, must find their aggressor before its curse claims them as well. Cue a series of oblique hints drowned in endless misdirection. Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters tells us the culprit is an acquaintance of the protagonists. The Law of the Slasher Whodunit tells us his or her motivations are artificial and perfunctory, making the whole exercise pointless.
I’ve never been a fan of the formula. It worked in Scream because the device was integral to the film’s portrayal of a morbidly desensitized youth: the characters were all suspects because they were all sociopaths. That a neighbour could commit murder just for kicks is a creepy prospect to consider. It relates to a genuine fear. That a neighbour could turn into a rabid Care Bear does not.
In Cursed, the whodunit formula detracts from the story, emphasizing silly clues instead of the characters’ journey. This results in awkward scenes in which the villain is forced to engage in expository rants instead of, say, turning into a werewolf, the movie’s supposed central concept. The two heroes themselves barely show interest in the subplot, more concerned with their romances and sudden fondness for red meat.
The Scooby-Doo mystery is just one in a series of dropped plot threads that make the multiple rewrites apparent. The opening sequence at a carnival fair introduces characters who have little or no connection to the main cast, which ranges from high school kids all the way to a television staff. The film even throws in a club owner (Joshua Jackson). Amusingly, the latter furnishes his establishment with wax figures and a maze of mirrors, set pieces that would’ve made a lot more sense if the movie had kept the carnival context.
In fairness, the film does streamline its narrative by focusing almost exclusively on the two leads. Their gradual transformation into werewolves is not wildly original, but it’s treated with charm and humour. The characters are endearing, and Williamson has a genuine gift for pop culture zingers.
Sometime between their first and third rewrite, Craven and Williamson must have given up on their scary new horror franchise. It was a wise decision. For all its flaws, Cursed avoids disaster by never taking itself seriously. If anything, the movie’s funnier than Teen Wolf Too (1987).