Tag Archives: Christina Ricci

Wes Craven’s ‘Cursed’ Deserves Better

Wes Craven’s werewolf picture, Cursed (2005), has a fitting title. We’re talking about the film that drove monster makeup legend Rick Baker out of the business. Frequent reshoots and studio interference put a silver bullet in the heart of this cinematic beast. What could’ve been a howling success became a box office whimper. Yet Craven’s foray into lycanthropy has sharper teeth than its undeserved 16% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. Underneath all of its flaws is a poignant story about the monstrous transformation which occurs when we allow our insecurities to rule us.

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Once again teaming Craven with Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, Cursed snatches the werewolf out of the atmospheric countryside and tosses it into the predatory jungle that is Hollywood. There, we meet producer Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her dorky younger brother, Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg), both outsiders dealing with self-doubt who struggle to fit in with the pack. After they’re bitten by a werewolf, that all begins to change — but at a terrible cost. 

Each character in Cursed is infected by some form of insecurity — something I dealt with for a long time thanks to bullying — and in this lycanthropic tale, that’s a ringing dinner bell for the werewolf. 

Ellie and Jimmy are fearful fawns, left alone with predators all around them after the tragic death of their parents. Ellie’s love for boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson) is one of caution, especially with women falling over each other for him. Unable to see herself as the catch she is, she worries she’s more of a lamb to his wolf and that the issues of their relationship are her doing, not his. Meanwhile, Jimmy has a sweet moment with his crush shattered by school bully Bo (Milo Ventimiglia), too afraid to bite back against his abuser.  

The unfortunate relatability of these characters is what makes the heart of Cursed beat stronger than its critics would have you believe. Whether you were hounded by bullies like I was or not, we’ve all experienced that snarling voice that tells us we’re not worthy. “I’m terrified because of all the good things that keep going away,” Ellie admits to Jake. Her words scratch at the wound of self-loathing because that’s exactly how I’ve felt in the past. There was a time when my insecurities gnawed on my confidence to such a degree that I also believed I was some kind of unloveable creature. 

Cursed unleashes that metaphorical monster in its most literal form. 

I get why Jimmy and Ellie are so easily seduced by the wolf that’s clawed its way inside. Lycanthropy is often portrayed as a terrifying change in werewolf lore, but Cursed is honest about how appealing it must be at first. Imagine having all of those negative thoughts about yourself evaporate overnight the way they do with our protagonists. Ellie confidently carries an aura of lust that glows like the moon and captures the desire of everyone she works with. Jimmy gets his Teen Wolf on and mauls the entire wrestling team with a strength he’s never dreamed of. They are given everything they think they need by the wolf. 

There’s a certain temptation in becoming the monster in the mirror staring back at us when that’s all we can see. Between Ellie verbally ripping psycho publicist Joanie (Judy Greer) to shreds or Jimmy dominating his bullies, they get a brief taste of what it’s like to make others afraid. And you know what? They like it. The animal-themed costume party which Ellie attends hits the audience like a newspaper on the snout, but a good theme is a good theme and this one is perfect for Hollywood, a place governed by a primal law of “eat or be eaten.” It’s in our blood to wonder what it’s like at the top of the food chain. But Cursed allows us to chew on what that actually entails.  

After Ellie finds herself lusting over a co-worker’s bloody nose, the horror of what she and Jimmy are becoming sets in. No matter how far down we look on ourselves, hurting someone else to feel better is always the wrong answer. Always. And it’s impossible to put a value on the importance of witnessing Ellie and Jimmy defeat that monster grumbling inside.  

The werewolf in Cursed savages characters with a moral test in choosing themselves or animalistic contempt for others, oddly best exposed by Jimmy and Bo’s relationship. We eventually learn Bo is a gay man pretending to be straight. He’s been feeding the monster of his insecurity by torturing Jimmy. I don’t typically give a pass for bullies, but there’s something beautifully human about Bo embracing his true identity once Jimmy shows him it’s okay. Williamson conveys an all too real truth that allowing ourselves to be controlled by our insecurities is the real curse. To break it, we have to accept who we are.  

The woeful irony of the werewolf doing all the killing, Joanie, is that she considers Ellie “vulnerable” without realizing she was also taken advantage of. After contracting one hairy STD from Jake without so much as a second date, she becomes obsessed with the “why” instead of holding him accountable for dropping her like a piece of meat. The werewolf feeds off her self-doubt with such ravenous hunger that it devours her. All it takes for Ellie to lure Joanie out into a barrage of bullets is to claim she has a “bony ass…fat thighs…and bad skin.” They say only sticks and stones break bones, but words cut deeper when we let ourselves believe them. Vicious as she is, Joanie isn’t nor should she be looked at as the monster here. She’s just another soul susceptible to the false promise of the beast. 

The power of the werewolf in Cursed is a lie. It manipulates the characters into thinking they will no longer be eaten by self-doubt, but what it doesn’t reveal is that it will consume every last piece of what makes them human. Joanie is just Exhibit A. She and our heroes are demeaned by Jake/The Wolf as a way of forcing them to give up and give in. “I gave you a reason to live…you’re a disaster,” he says to Ellie. 

So many of my insecurities growing up came from what bullies forced me to believe. Jake/The Wolf is a representation of that manipulative voice in our heads trying to tear us down until we believe everything it says. No wonder that the only way to kill a werewolf in this case is to separate the brain from the heart. Ellie and Jimmy gloriously decapitating Jake’s head is a symbolic victory in shutting out that voice so they can finally look at themselves with the confidence that they were capable of all along. Ellie isn’t afraid anymore. Jimmy gets the girl and a new best friend. A rare happy ending in the werewolf filmography. 

There’s a full moon’s worth of good werewolf films out there, but few have as warm of a touch as Cursed. It isn’t just a wacky werewolf movie sporting a fur coat of bad CG and a werewolf giving the finger. For me, it’s a howling reminder that we all have the power to transform and overcome our insecurities, no werewolf needed.