“The Cured,” in theaters and on demand Feb. 23, 2018, is a smart, new Irish zombie film from director David Freyne. It makes me think that the UK really knows how to do zombism-as-infectious-disease. (See the excellent “28 Days Later” and “The Girl With All The Gifts.”)
The film starts after most of a massive zombie outbreak has been contained, and a cure has been discovered that works for about 75 percent of the infected. This good news comes with significant problems, however: for one thing, the cured zombies remember every awful thing they did while infected and, worse still, the population is seriously conflicted about letting them reintegrate into society. It’s a clever concept with parallels to unwanted refugees and minority populations.
The tone is grim, but it’s riveting, and the general sense of leftover trauma, horror and grief is palpable. After a whopping four years of being a zombie, Senan (Sam Keeley) has been cured and is offered a home by Abigail (Ellen Page), his American sister-in-law. What Abigail doesn’t know is that Senan’s very first victim was her husband Luke, a memory that tortures Senan as he tries to settle into his new life as something like a leper with a parole officer. He takes a job at the treatment center where doctors keep trying to cure the resistant infected, increasingly against the wishes of the public and much of the government, who are debating simply killing them.
The tension is conveyed through news clips and interviews, anti-Cured graffiti and neighbors who condemn Abigail for taking one in. It’s easy to feel both sympathy for the Cured, who had no control over their actions, and to understand the hatred of their victims’ family members and friends. The father of Senan’s cured friend Connor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) refuses to accept him back for the understandable reason that Connor killed his own mother. But Connor is an ambitious, calculating former politician, and he quickly heads a group of angry Cured who fight back.
Senan struggles to stay uninvolved and to simply be a family with Abigail and her little boy, but the chilling glimpses of Connor in Senan’s memories reveal that he was present when Senan killed Luke. In fact, he seems to have an unnatural hold over Senan. He also becomes increasingly sociopathic and pulls a stunt that destroys the relative safety in which everyone has been living. Can Senan help Abigail and his nephew?
Vaughan-Lawlor is terrifically creepy as Connor and Page’s stoic, diminutive Abigail is very likable, especially in a moment where she fights off a zombie with an ax. Keeley is as vulnerable as a little boy, filled with self-loathing and a troubled sympathy for the resistant infected. The ending leaves us hanging a bit, but I suppose if everything was resolved in such a setting, it wouldn’t be very realistic.
The movie opens Friday, February 23rd and will run at the Nuart Theatre with a Q&A with Ellen Page and Director David Freyne. There will be a second Q&A with just Freyne on Saturday, the 24th.