Starring Aleksey Dyakin, Nikita Elenev, and Irina Martynenko
Written by Oleg Presnyakov and Vladimir Presnyakov
Directed by Nadezhda Mikhalkova
Reviewed at Popcorn Frights 2018
The Teen Slasher has been one horror’s most successful subgenres, cultivating immense popularity through the years and evolving with every decade since its birth in the late 1970s. Particularly in the 1990s, these movies focused on groups of teenage friends that are preyed on by cold-blooded killers. This cycle of movies were often a contemporary take on the slasher films that came before them, ultimately becoming self referential and referential of the world they set themselves in. Nadezhda Mikhalkova tells a story reminiscent of the teen slashers of the ‘90s in her directorial debut, Cursed Seat, but introduces some supernatural elements that make the film feel fresh while still familiar to fans of the genre.
Cursed Seat follows a group of friends that is mysteriously haunted after sharing urban legends around a campfire one night. The group takes matters into its own hands when those close to them begin to die gruesomely one by one, suspecting that the tragedies have something to do with a story told on that fateful evening. Particularly, the friends focus on the legend about a cursed theater seat that haunts anyone who sits in it. Upon further investigation, the group discovers that the truth behind what is haunting them is darker than they could have imagined. Cursed Seat’s most promising quality is that the film is never really one thing— initially under the guise of paranormal elements, later revealing itself to be more of a slasher, but ultimately taking the form of both. Though the film becomes slightly difficult to follow at points because of this, it also guarantees that viewers remain invested and curious throughout. The adolescent group dynamic and the manner in which tragedy befalls them each one by one is very reminiscent of the teen slasher wave of the ‘90s, particularly Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer because of the self-aware character tropes implemented throughout. This works in the film’s favor because it will feel familiar to audiences everywhere and works with themes we’ve seen before in a new way when it introduces the possibility of a paranormal presence. Cursed Seat, despite its shortcomings, still articulates that authentic threats lie with the living as opposed to the dead, and that is where our fears should lie as well.
While the film is effective in communicating its ideas, it falls a little flat when it comes to inciting emotional reactions from viewers. The reason for this lies in how difficult it becomes to feel sympathy for any of the characters, because they are all highly unlikeable. That’s not to say that the performances aren’t noteworthy – they are uniformly solid and believable. The problem lies more so in that these characters hardly even like each other, so why should the audience? Characters are found throwing raging parties even in the wake of tragedy, which highlights the assumed careless nature of adolescence but isn’t realistic or sympathy inducing. Perhaps that was the film’s intention, but to create characters so unlikeable that the audience is almost glad when something awful happens feels mean-spirited, and Cursed Seat deserves more credit than that. The film’s inability to incite many emotional reactions might have been redeemed if the kills were more interesting or if the movie was more quickly paced, but the movie moves glacially with its few suspenseful moments coming and going in mere seconds.
Ultimately, Cursed Seat is a film with lots of promise that remains to be fulfilled and could have been better by developing stronger characters or a more defined sense of suspense. Still, it deserves acknowledgement for its attempt in taking the familiar teen slasher and introducing new facets that make it feel fresh. The premise is interesting, and while there are elements that don’t quite work or require improvement, Cursed Seat is still worth visiting for the ideas it proposes alone.
Cursed Seat is a film reminiscent of those seen during the wave of teen slashers in the 90s and has lots of promise that remains to be fulfilled