Interview: The Cured’s David Freyne and Sam Keeley Talk Zombies, Politics, and PTSD
The Walking Dead, once the flagship of AMC and the envy of all networks, has been suffering a significant decline in both ratings and viewership over the past couple seasons. While many place blame on writers and producers, it could simply reflect changes in tastes and trends. The zombie subgenre of horror has become, objectively, saturated with few infusions of originality over the past few years.
In this climate, The Cured can be considered the cure for the 21st Century zombie movie, which has become stagnant and formulaic. It’s the debut feature from Irish filmmaker David Freyne and it stars Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. We’ve seen more outbreak movies than we can count, but The Cured takes place many years after an apocalypse that devastated Europe.
The hook is simple but brilliant: The infected are cured but returning to their pre-zombie lives proves a difficult transition. Though no longer compelled to kill and cannibalize, The Cured (as they are referred to) nonetheless remember every atrocity they committed.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Freyne and Keeley to discuss the film, their approaches, and the parallels to international politics. Check out the trailer for The Cured below, followed by our interviews.
The Cured arrives in theaters and on VOD February 23, courtesy of IFC films.
A disease that turns people into zombies has been cured. The once-infected zombies are discriminated against by society and their own families, which causes social issues to arise. This leads to militant government interference.
Dread Central: One of the most compelling aspects of The Cured is the cure! I’m hard-pressed to think of another film that explores the idea of zombies becoming human again. It’s a great innovation. Where did the idea come from?
David Freyne: I love zombie films and the idea for The Cured came about in 2011, so I’ve been working on this for quite some time. I really liked I am Legend, but I recalled that at the end, the patient, the female zombie gets the cure from Will Smith, and then she dies. I was like, “Hang on, this just got interesting!” That’s pretty much the moment when the idea came. But it also has to do with what was going on in Ireland at the time; we were going through a recession. The banks were closing and we were all losing our jobs and it was like we were being blamed for things that were beyond our control. That’s the analogy for The Cured because they were being blamed for things that were beyond their control. All of that melded together and became the inspiration for the film.
There have been a lot of zombie films that mention a cure but like you said, it’s something we haven’t seen before.
DC: Yeah, we’ve seen reformed zombies, like in Day of the Dead and Fido, but they’re still zombies. We’ve never seen these fully cured zombies. It really sets The Cured apart and makes it worth seeing. Now, I saw a lot of potential parallels with current world issues, like the refugee crisis, the prison system, and soldiers returning home from war. The way The Cured were treated reminded me of how Vietnam Veterans were harassed when they returned home from war. Were any of these parallels intentional, or was it just the recession?
DF: PTSD and the treatment of soldiers was definitely something I had in mind. Like you mentioned, Vietnam wasn’t like World War II, where the soldiers returned as heroes. And the refugee crisis as well; we have a camp here in Ireland, where these people were institutionalized—almost like they were being quarantined from the rest of society. This isn’t just how we treat these people in Europe, it’s the way the world treats asylum seekers where they’re regarded as rapist and criminals and all the terrible things Trump is saying—like other countries are giving us their worst, which has been proven to be totally false. That crisis was definitely an inspiration.
But yeah, studying the effects of PTSD was a big part of my research for The Cured. I wanted to explore what would happen if these people remembered the things they had done when they were infected. With the memories of all that killing, how do you normalize again? Is it even possible?
But yeah, I don’t even know if you can separate the recession and the refugee crisis. Especially the way asylum seekers are portrayed as these boogeymen. We saw the rise of all of these populist politicians that stoked this hate to serve their own ends. That’s why there’s a character in the film who uses this fear to get The Cured all riled up, but it’s just to serve his own ambitions. I think that’s what we have now. The rise in racism and hate crime is all connected to the recession.
DC: The ending of The Cured was ambiguous, or rather, open-ended. Were you setting up a sequel or is your intention to let this story stand?
DF: I definitely want to do something non-zombie, but it will depend on the response to the film. I wanted the story to end with redemption, so its complete in that way. But there’s still a story left to tell so we’ll see. Maybe it will proceed as a graphic novel.
DC: Anything else you want to tell our readers?
DF: To me, the scariest things are real, not unreal, so I hope The Cured sparks discussions, whether it be about politics or something else. Nothing is black and white; none of the characters are all right or all wrong.
Dread Central: How’d you get into acting?
Sam Keeley: I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I was working on an album in order to become a rock star. But I had this high school guidance counselor who was like, “Look, I’m not going to let you do this. You need to at least have a backup plan.” After banging her head against a wall for a week or so, she said, “What about drama? With a drama degree, you can teach, do film studies, or become a critic.” I loved the idea!
DC: You’ve been in a handful of horror movies. What are your thoughts on the genre?
SK: I love horror movies and thrillers. These films are filled with such interesting characters. There’s the opportunity to be a bit bigger, more eccentric if you will. There are so many great parts in these films.
DC: Your role [in The Cured] couldn’t have been easy; Senan is nothing short of tortured. How did you prepare to play the part?
SK: When David first offered me the part, I had to think very seriously about whether I could pull it off. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible, despite the fantastic elements. I did a lot of research about people who had been institutionalized and reintegrated back into society; murderers and sex offenders who have to go through a system to be reintegrated and accepted by society. I looked at the human side of that.
I did a lot of reading about stressful situations. It was heavy work but it was worth it.
DC: One of the most compelling parts of the film was your relationship with Abbie. Can you talk about what it was like to work with Ellen Page and did she influence your performance?
SK: Great question. Ellen is a wonderful human being; so unbelievably talented. I had only known her from her work before we met on set. It was a tricky character for her because it was a mother role, but there was something else to it. She never missed a beat, and it really helped me to see my character through her eyes.
DC: What were the most difficult parts of the role for you?
SK: I lost a lot of weight for the shoot; I went vegetarian. But mostly, it was staying in a perplexed state—keeping one foot in that world. It was tough to do because it weighs you down. It was nice to wrap and let go of the character go, to let Senan dissolve into the air. It was hard to maintain that guilt; it was mentally taxing.
DC: What’s next for you?
SK: I just finished a project called Peace, directed by Robert David Port based on a novel by Richard Bausch. It’s the story of four soldiers during World War II. It’s a psychological story about these characters who become lost and have to rely on each other to survive the situation. We filmed in British Columbia for four weeks and it was amazing; all outdoors in freezing weather! I’m really excited about that.
DC: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers about The Cured?
SK: We worked really hard to bring something new to the genre and I hope people will see it with an open mind. The market is flooded with zombie movies, some of them good, some of them not so good. I think people have become somewhat jaded, but I hope they’ll see it with an open mind. Don’t expect your typical zombie movie.