Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later remains a modern classic in the “zombie” sub-genre — yes I know they aren’t zombies, that’s why I put it in quotes! — and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later is a terrifically thrilling sequel. It’s been eleven years now, though, and the odds of an official third film ever getting made seem near zero. Thankfully, writer/director David Freyne didn’t get the memo.
The Maze Virus that infected humanity and left tens of thousands dead has been cured. Mostly. More precisely, 75% of the infected have been cured with the remainder incarcerated while the government decides what to do with them. Those in the first group are being reintegrated back into society with monitoring and menial jobs — the virus is still in them after all — and Senan (Sam Keeley) is heading home to live with his sister-in-law Abigail (Ellen Page) and her young son. Senan and the rest are returning to live among an understandably terrified populace, and worse, they’re returning with their memories intact of the carnage they committed because of the virus.
It’s a powder keg for obvious reasons, and the tension between the normal folks and the infected/cured only increases when a rebel faction among the latter develops in the face of public intolerance. They begin a bombing campaign against the authorities and an anti-Cured hate group, and that in turn sees the military step up their response. It’s a cycle of violence all too familiar to mankind… albeit with a bit more flesh-eating.
The Cured offers up an intriguing spin on not only the zombie genre as a whole but also the recent variations on the formula including The Returned that show the undead returning to society. The film’s Irish setting suggests an easy leap to the country’s not-so-distant conflicts as factions develop based on interior differences, but the thematic metaphor extends beyond that to ideas of forgiveness, guilt, and prisoner reform too. Viewers can take it as deep as they choose, but happily, it works pretty damn well as a surface-level thriller too.
The first hour sets up characters and their increasingly tense situation with an eye towards both suspense and drama. Senan’s dealing with the general grief of what he’s done, but it’s clear he’s keeping something from Abigail regarding his brother/her husband — that something is exactly what you think it is — that threatens to derail their already tenuous reunion. She’s of the belief that the cured deserve a second chance, but her interest in clemency for the infected killers is challenged by her concerns for her son’s safety. “You have the choice not to eat people,” she says to one, but it may be falling on hungry ears.
Freyne crafts an increasingly engaging tale, and while it’s obviously not an official entry in the 28 Days Later franchise he takes clear visual inspiration from Boyle’s creation. There’s a crispness to the film’s look, and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail imbue third act violence with a sharp immediacy that succeeds in leaving viewers on edge (even if he does rely a bit too heavily on music stingers for scares). Performances are equally engaging with both Page and Keeley bringing their emotional turmoil to the forefront but bringing the fierce intensity when called for. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor impresses too as an infected friend of Senan’s whose lack of understanding from loved ones tips him over the edge.
The Cured is a terrifically tense thriller that works both as a simple genre effort and a deeper exploration of how we treat those who’ve trespassed against us.