Another day, another zombie story. But somewhat thrillingly, it’s yet another take on the zombie legend we’ve never seen before, with a brilliant premise and a story just as good to back it up.
The zombie apocalypse has come and gone, the world mostly intact and increasing numbers of former infected bought back to humanity thanks to the cure that’s been discovered. It was administered in waves, certain infected resistant until it was chemically tweaked, and now only a small number remain locked in medical facilities as they try to claw their way out, hissing for human flesh and with scientists trying to synthesise the version that will bring them back to humanity.
The high concept premise of the story is that those who have been cured have full memory of the terrible things they did when they were flesh eating monsters. One of them is Senan (Sam Keely), who’s let out of quarantine after his treatment and back to normal life in his seaside Irish hometown alongside friend and fellow former zombie Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor).
Under the program that sees the cured reintegrated into society, Senan is given a job and billeted in the home of his sister in law, American Abbie (Ellen Page) who lost her husband in the undead uprising and is trying to heal along with her young son. She accepts Senan back into their lives quietly but gladly, prepared to love him as family and help him live a full life.
But the rest of Ireland isn’t so sure, news footage of riots and angry civilians making “The Cured” a very effective racism allegory (just like people can’t help having different coloured skin, they can’t help having been bitten). Everyone knows what the cured have done and a vocal majority aren’t prepared to welcome them back into the world. It’s not just that they’re ‘different’ or even that they’re technically murderers – because there’s a number who are still resistant, who’s to say the hunger doesn’t still exist deep in the cured, ready to burst forth at the right provocation?
Many people want them to stay locked up with the mindless cannibals still in institutions, and the less they’re accepted into society, the more the radical among them become angry, want to band together amongst their own kind. They become what they’re always accused of (insular, antisocial) and in some cases, turn violent like everyone expects, furthering larger society’s need to fear and punish them and causing an ever-upwards spiral of tension and violence.
Such a call to arms is offered by Conor, formerly a barrister now reduced to street sweeping. He attends underground meetings where cured rail against the way they’re treated, becoming more radicalised and sick of the taunts and non-acceptance visited on them. As Conor says at one point (something which resonates not just with the bloody history of the Irish setting but Trump-era America) ‘they won’t stop with the resistant’.
At first Senan wants none of it, glad to have the chance to reconnect with Abbie and her little boy and get a chance at normality again. But the pressure cooker atmosphere is threatening to blow. The authorities decide that the cure will never be strong enough to bring the remainder of the infected back to normal and they issue a ruling that the ones left will be humanely disposed of (a pretty clear and well-sketched Nazi/Holocaust analogy).
But Senan’s job is assisting a scientist working on the cure with a still-zombified woman, and she’s certain she’s on the verge of a breakthrough. Does Senan help them hide so she can continue her work? Join Conor’s revolution and bring violence back to his now-peaceful life? And how does he live with the secret about what really happened to Luke, Abbie’s husband (you’ll guess it pretty early, but it doesn’t make it any less dramatically effective), when Conor knows it too and is prepared to use it as leverage?
It’s a story straight out of the horror genre slotted effortlessly into a blue-collar kitchen sink family drama that might come from the mind of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. There’s not a lot of design or visual flair in the film – even when the claret flows during the explosive climax it never gets very colourful, but it’s got two things that keep you gripped.
The first is yet another fantastic new take on zombie mythology, and the second is the subtext. George A Romero is still credited with making zombies one of the most socially relevant monsters in modern cinema as they stood in for the brutality of the Vietnam war and mindless consumerism. Today they’ve represented everything from puberty to loneliness, and “The Cured” is one of the most effective metaphors for the way we live right now in a monster movie in years.