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D: David Freyne / 95m

Cast: Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Stuart Graham, Paula Malcomson, Oscar Nolan

In the near future, the Maze Virus has almost caused the end of civilisation as we know it. In Ireland it has affected three quarters of the population, with millions having been turned into slavering, flesh-hungry zombies. However, a cure has been found, and it’s been administered to all the sufferers, but only around seventy-five per cent of the affected have responded positively to the cure. Now, they’re back to something resembling normal: they no longer want to eat human flesh, they don’t have to worry about the virus reasserting itself, and they are being allowed to reintegrate back into the society that only a short while ago was hunting them down and exterminating them. But there’s a catch, an unforeseen side effect of the cure: they remember everything they did, everyone they killed and ate, while they were affected.

This proves particularly troublesome for Senan (Keeley), a young man who upon his release from a military quarantine, is allowed to move into the home of his widowed sister-in-law, Abbie (Page). Abbie’s husband (and Senan’s brother) has been missing since the outbreak, but Senan knows what happened to him, a secret he shares with fellow survivor Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor). As more and more of the recently cured attempt to pick up their lives where they left off, they find themselves encountering prejudice and discrimination at every turn, with only Abbie and a research scientist at the military quarantine, Dr Lyons (Malcomson) (who is looking for a cure that will work for all the affected) providing any support amongst the uninfected. With growing animosity towards them, the cured seek to secure their rights as human beings, but through the kind of insurgency that the country has historically had to deal with. With Conor taking the fight to the authorities, Senan’s loyalty to Conor is called to account as he tries to protect Abbie and her son, and his nephew, Cillian (Nolan). But Conor has a darker plan than just fighting for the rights of the cured…

A fresh twist on the zombie movie, The Cured does what all the best zombie movies do: it tells its story against a recognisable social and political backdrop, and adopts a measure of gloomy sincerity that grounds the material even as it makes it overly serious. There’s very little time or room for humour here, as David Freyne’s debut feature paints a terrifying portrait of a period where social order nearly collapsed and four years of bloodthirsty savagery has left deep, unimaginable scars on a nation’s psyche. The cured, it’s made clear, aren’t to be trusted. Worse still, they’re figures of fear, shunned by the majority of the uninfected who show little faith in the idea of an effective and non-reversible cure. With two previous reintegrations having failed, it’s no wonder the cured are required to report to the military each week, as if they were on probation. Freyne, working from his own script, shows the worry and the anxiety shown on both sides, as distrust builds between them and Conor seeks to exploit the concerns of the cured while focusing on his own agenda.

The political backdrop is perhaps inevitable given Ireland’s troubled history, and Freyne charts a clear allegorical course through the narrative that adds depth to the drama and a layer of inevitable tension in the movie’s latter stages. Some of it is simplistic in nature, but it’s carried off with a great deal of style which helps immensely as the style on show is somewhat grungy and dimly lit (which isn’t a bad thing, as Piers McGrail’s cinematography will attest). Page’s character is an American whose place in Ireland is neatly ascribed to a mix of the personal (her son) and the political (US restrictions on travellers from countries with infected populations). She’s also a journalist who can anticipate what’s going to happen, but in one of the movie’s few stumbles, is instructed to forget the potential for a new outbreak and attend the opening of a new McDonalds instead. It’s at moments like these that allegory mixes well with fatalism, and the future becomes increasingly bleaker and bleaker.

Away from the political and social upheaval, the relationship between Senan and Conor is given plenty of room to grow, and Freyne uses it to explore the nature of their connection before they were cured. This connection is one of the movie’s better ideas, and is used sparingly but effectively to show both how bad things were, and how much worse they will be if Conor gets his way. Senan is wracked by guilt at what he did while infected, but Conor is willing to re-embrace the monster he became. Senan is desperate to retain every last ounce of his humanity, and is wracked by nightmares. Conor allows himself to be subsumed by anger and a lust for personal power, discarding his own humanity out of a misguided sense of injustice. Freyne keeps their personal dynamic at the heart of the movie, and though it’s often at the expense of Abbie and her journey toward an unwanted revelation, it’s more than effective thanks to committed and sincere performances from Keeley and Vaughan-Lawlor.

Freyne also finds time and space to offer moments of genuine horror and pathos, and provides a well staged, and convincing breakdown of law and order in the movie’s final stretch that belies the movie’s low budget. And like an increasing number of movies these days, there are plenty of well placed and very loud sound effects to facilitate a number of (mostly) successful jump scares, but these aren’t really needed thanks to the morbid atmosphere that’s already been created at the beginning. With Freyne threading notions of loss and grief into the already gloomy narrative, there’s as much to think about in The Cured as there is to take in visually. This is an intelligent, and intelligently handled, zombie movie that stumbles only occasionally, but when it does it’s not enough to derail the momentum that it builds up quite skilfully and to such credible effect.

Rating: 8/10 – easily one of the better zombie movies released in recent years, The Cured is a thoughtful, well crafted movie that is confidently handled by its writer/director; with an emotional core that helps anchor the tragedy at the movie’s forefront, this is a horror movie that works on several levels and all with a great deal of aplomb.

NOTE: There’s no trailer for The Cured available at the moment. When there is it’ll be added here.