There is no familiar transformation scene in this one, no CGI in which the afflicted party sprouts thick fur, claws, a pair of impressive canines and a snout, and then howls at the moon. And the wolfman in question is neither man nor wolf, exactly, but rather a boy named Edward (Max Mackintosh). After being bitten by another kid (Tommy Rodger) who tries on a pair of vampiric-looking false teeth made of silver, Edward turns into — or, rather, is enveloped by — something resembling Gollum.
Written and directed by Sean Ellis, a British filmmaker whose 2004 short film “Cashback” was nominated for an Oscar, “The Cursed” is a good-looking movie, whose moody atmospherics elevate some otherwise cliche elements. (Cue the cawing crows and torch-lit search parties.) And yet, make no mistake: This is a monster movie cut from a classic cloth.
Set in 1882 (after a brief prologue taking place in 1917), and filmed in France — although the precise setting is never specified — “The Cursed” centers on the Laurent family. Patriarch Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) gets things going by perpetrating a massacre upon a caravan of Gypsies he finds camping on his land. (It’s actually their land, but White privilege, as we know, can be toxic.)
As in the 1941 film, there is a Gypsy woman (Pascale Becouze) and there is a curse. But here it involves the aforementioned set of silver chompers, said to be fashioned from coins the biblical Judas received for betraying Jesus.
The action proceeds according to tradition: Whoever survives a bite from Edward also turns into a lupine beast of murderous appetites. And so on and so forth, down the line. Enter werewolf hunter John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), an out-of-town pathologist who has been on the hunt for werewolves ever since his wife and child were killed by a wolflike creature. He sets up traps, peers into a microscope at blood samples and walks around with a rifle loaded with silver bullets.
In the film’s press material, Ellis has stated that he wanted to avoid werewolf cliches, and in some ways he does. Seamus is punished, via his son, for what he has done to the Gypsies. But Ellis also has said that he wanted his story to focus, metaphorically, on the idea of addiction, “whether it be to drugs, our phones, or anything else — and how that addiction can destroy families and communities.”
That’s a stretch. If addiction is contagious, it doesn’t spread in quite the way that werewolf-ism seems to in “The Cursed,” while, say, you’re minding your own business hanging laundry in the backyard, as happens to the poor Laurent family maid (Roxane Duran). Whatever social critique Ellis is aiming for is mostly a miss.
And yet “The Cursed” is stylish and scary enough for what it is. That’s an old-fashioned creature feature, effective enough to give you a mild case of the heebie-jeebies but nothing chronic.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong violence, grisly images and brief nudity. 113 minutes.