‘The Cursed’ a creepy, stylish horror gem rooted in history

From a ruthless ambush to a dying woman’s curse to a mysterious fanged creature, there’s plenty to scare in the violent shocker.

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A pathologist (Boyd Holbrook) arrives in town with revenge on his mind in “The Cursed.”

LD Entertainment

We’ve seen ambush sequences in dozens if not hundreds of movies, whether it’s a surprise attack in a war film, a Western, a futuristic space opera or a horror film — and it seems that more often than not, the scene plays out from the point of view of the victims, with the camera in the middle of the madness to catch the shock and brutality of it all and one quick-cut close-up after another depicting the violence.

‘The Cursed’

Untitled

LD Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Sean Ellis. Rated R (for strong violence, grisly images and brief nudity). Running time: 112 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.

Early on in “The Cursed,” Sean Ellis’ stylish and haunting slow-build twist on the werewolf legend, there’s a classic example of an ambush scene, with a group of armed men storming a civilian encampment of men and women and children — and systematically beating, torturing and murdering the entire community. What makes this rendering unique is that after a series of shots from the perspective of the camp, director Ellis (who also serves as cinematographer) keeps the camera (and thus the viewer) at bay, observing this horrific massacre as if we were in hiding. We’re close enough to see the murders play out in real time and to hear the gunshots and the screaming — but far enough away that it feels almost like someone else’s nightmare.

Although “The Cursed” milks its relatively thin storyline a bit too long and engages in some heavy-handed (albeit valid) social commentary about 19th century colonialism perhaps one too many times, this is an effectively creepy and often bone-crunching horror gem with some striking visuals and a first-rate cast. Dripping in dark colors and foggy confusion with the occasional burst of blood-spattered madness, “The Cursed” is the classic cautionary tale about shameless avarice coming back to haunt you in more ways than one.

The first sign this isn’t going to be an ordinary, on-the-cheap splatter movie is an extended opening sequence set during the Battle of Somme, one of the deadliest clashes in World War I and in all of human history. A soldier named Edward Laurent (Alun Raglan) has been hit multiple times, and he succumbs to his wounds just after the doctor extracts a silver bullet from Edward and says, “That’s not a German bullet.” Not since “Those aren’t pillows!” have we heard such a startling declaration.

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Charlotte (Amelia Crouch, left) and her mother, Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) are part of a land baron’s family.

LD Entertainment

We then flash back 35 years earlier, and even though virtually everyone talks in distinct British accents as if they’re in a Dickens adaptation, we’re told this is remote village in France so we’re gonna just go with it. The ruthless land baron Seamus Laurent (Alastair Petrie) barely pays attention to his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly from “Yellowstone”) or their two children, Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) and young Edward (Max Mackintosh), what with the region reeling from a cholera outbreak and a Roma clan (rightfully) laying claim to the land Seamus has taken for himself. Laurent’s men kill everyone, in some cases torturing the victims, e.g., they cut off a man’s hands and feet, stuff him like a scarecrow and hoist him on a post.

At one point, an old lady who tried to bite one of the attackers with a mouth full of silver teeth spits on her captors and hisses: “We will poison your sleep until you summon the dark one. Then you’ll know what death is!” before she is buried alive. Granted, these men couldn’t understand what she was saying, but when a lady with a whole set of extractable silver teeth spits on you and seems to be cursing you, maybe don’t bury her alive.

Now we’re into it. The children of the village, who were doing some poking around where they shouldn’t have been poking around, begin having nightmares. Edward is bitten by a mysterious, fanged creature, suffers some serious repercussions — and then vanishes into the night. Another local boy turns up dead. Fortunately for the villagers, the dashing and famed pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) has arrived, and he not only wants to solve this mystery, he wants his revenge, because let’s just say John rides alone these days.

As for the killing beast: Call it a werewolf or call it something else, it’s most terrifying when we’re just catching glimpses of the thing (which, of course, is the case with practically every movie monster ever — to wit, “Jaws”). Brimming with gothic visuals and featuring top-notch production design and suitably earnest performances from a cast that leans into the supernatural material, “The Cursed” doesn’t break any new ground, but it serves as a solid reminder of why it’s a really bad idea to mess with hallowed ground.

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