If you thought there was no new angle to take on the overworked subject of zombies onscreen, The Cured may surprise you. A compelling but often uneven mix of sociopolitical thesis and horror flick, it can’t quite decide which of those two it wants to be. Still, it’s smart and ambitious and pursues ideas in a way that other brain-eating flicks (with the exception of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead) rarely attempt.
Ellen Page (one of the film’s producers) plays Abbie, an American living in Dublin — though like many others, she sheltered for months in the countryside when the city was overrun by people infected with the so-called Maze Virus. A disease that battered Europe in three waves, it turned its victims into drooling, snarling, cannibalistic monsters. Abbie’s husband Luke was among the uninfected humans killed in Dublin during the height of the plague.
“Were you with him, at the end?” she asks her brother-in-law Senan (Sam Keeley). It’s a loaded question, because Senan was himself turned into zombie, and only now has become one of the 75 percent of the formerly infected who’ve responded to a medical cure. The remaining, slavering 25 percent, now kept in lockdown, are known as “resistants.”
While Senan and his friend Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) are glad to be “normal” again, they return to society with a terrible burden: they can remember every violent act they committed — every person they ripped apart, and ate.
Regarding the question of how Luke died, you’ll be well ahead of the plot before the truth is revealed. Luckily, there’s more than that to keep your interest. As a member of the cured, both Senan and Conor are treated like (at best) second-class citizens. They’re given menial jobs (Conor, a former attorney, now has to work on a cleaning crew), and many are housed in near prison-like dorms. Senan is one of the lucky ones, taken back into his dead brother’s home by Abbie and her young son, though the neighbors accost her for allowing him back on their street.
Senan can’t quite blame them. Sometimes he feels the Maze Virus “screaming to get out,” he tells Dr. Lyons (Paula Malcolmson), whom he’s assigned to help as she tries to concoct a new medical cure for the 25 percent resistant. Otherwise, if they’re not rehabilitated soon, they’ll be executed en masse by the government. (The doctor has a personal incentive: her colleague and lover is one of the still-sick.)
Meanwhile, Conor forms an underground cell called the Cured Alliance, plotting to fight back against the repressive “normals” populace. “They won’t stop with the resistant,” he tells Senan. “They want us all dead, and we have to stop them.”
It’s hard to argue with this as we see the cured being endlessly bullied and constrained. But once Conor — whose early character shading quickly veers into untempered villainy — starts slinging Molotov cocktails through residential windows, writer-director David Freyne’s editing and storytelling focus start to go a little wobbly. Despite that, the movie raises interesting questions about society mores, prejudice and the possibility of forgiveness on a global scale.
Another new indie movie also has thematically interesting material, and unsteady execution.
You don’t have to know that it’s based on a book called Blue Angel to guess where Submission is going. Richard Levine’s adaptation of Francine Prose’s novel (its subject matter probably cutting edge in 2000, but a little over-familiar now) stars Stanley Tucci as Ted Swenson, a self-satisfied creative writing professor in a small New England college. In one of the excessive voiceovers that mar the movie, he tells us that he assumed his academic career was merely a stopgap, just until he followed his acclaimed first novel with a second. Ten years of writer’s block later, he’s a tenured professor and still hasn’t written a follow-up.
He pretends to always be writing in his free time, though, and his loving, supportive wife Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick, in a thankless, underwritten role) believes him. So do his creative writing students, especially pretty, pert Angela (Addison Timlin), who encourages her classmates to lead with positive thoughts when critiquing each others’ work.
Her sensitive approach, as well as her confession that his novel “saved my life,” makes Ted more than happy to critique the first few pages of her novel-in-progress. But when he likes what he reads, you can’t help thinking it’s because of the turn-on plot of a young woman having an affair with an older teacher. Hmmmmm.
As Ted starts phoning Angela to praise each successive chapter and spending a little too much time with her, Submission becomes something of a horror movie for the academic set. Instead of witless teens venturing into a haunted house, here it’s a middle-aged professor following a nubile student into her dorm room — you want to yell, “Don’t go in there!” When he does, Ted loses whatever sympathy we have for him. Which is never much to begin with. Same goes with Angela. Neither character is that appealing. While the always fine Tucci makes Ted’s smugness palpable, he never makes us believe the guy is much more than a putz.
While the issue of sexual harassment seems perfect for this time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Submission resorts to the old, icky stereotype of a young woman as a man-eating harridan. Angela, in the film’s last act, can seem as dangerously obsessed as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction — only without the butcher knife and the bunny-boiling. (Timlin, to her credit, is very good in a role that requires her to range from dithering insecurity to steely opportunist.) Likewise, Sedgwick is forced to play an implausibly twinkly, loving spouse, only to turn gorgon in her last scene.
I don’t know if the elements of misogyny and male victimhood can be sourced back to Prose’s novel (I haven’t read it). Uncomfortably, Submission reminded me a little too much of David Mamet’s Oleanna, another academic exploration of alleged sexual harassment, which purported to be balanced but was definitely stacked against the female student. Hashtags change, but some clichés never do.
The Cured. With Sam Keeley, Ellen Page, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. Written and directed by David Freyne. Rated R. 95 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
Submission. With Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick. Written and directed by Richard Levine. Unrated. 106 minutes. At the Plaza.