In the midst of the European debt crisis seven years ago, Irish filmmaker David Freyne had an idea for his first feature: a zombie movie.
The leap from eurozone austerity measures to flesh-eating creatures isn’t as big as one might think. The horror genre has long been a vehicle for social and political issues (just ask Jordan Peele, who has cited George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as a main source of inspiration for his own racially driven thriller Get Out). With The Cured, Freyne is channeling the finger-pointing and populist politicians exploiting people’s fears during Europe’s economic downswing.
The Cured zeroes in on a town in Ireland that’s readjusting after a worldwide epidemic of a virus that turned people into the undead. A cure has restored a vast majority of the infected to normal, but their reintegration from quarantine is rife with vehement protests from the citizens who feel like the death and destruction the former zombies caused can’t be forgiven or forgotten. To make matters more complicated, there’s a small group of zombies who are resistant to the cure, which sets off a debate over whether to kill them, lest they spark another infection, or to continue to drain already strained resources in the pursuit of an antidote. Amid rising tensions, one of the cured, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), becomes a leader for the disenfranchised group. But his extremist views clash with his protégé Senan (Sam Keeley) who just wants to quietly assimilate into the life he once had and keep his sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page) and his nephew safe.
“It just melded together, the idea of these cured who are being blamed for things beyond their control and being dehumanized,” Freyne says. “And how populist figures were manipulating people’s fear and anger and directing it at immigrants or asylum seekers and making them feel like they’re the problem, not banks.”
What Freyne so deftly accomplishes in The Cured is making sure his message never gets lost in clichéd scare tactics. The presence of zombies feels more atmospheric than something lurking in the shadows ready to pounce. A debate on categorizing his film as horror or drama could honestly go either way because, as Freyne mentions, it’s a character-driven film at its core.
“My hope with this film is that it’s very much so a horror-drama,” Freyne says. “[Horror is] such a great genre to tell a social story and that’s what it’s always done. What’s different now is people are beginning to really wake up to that and it’s becoming less and less niche, which is a really good thing.”
The Cured is in theaters and available on VOD now.