Most scholars these days will tell you this about historical European witch hunts: “witch” was more likely than not used allegorically to mean “any minority we don’t like.” Jewish and Romani people, people who were part of the “wrong” denomination of Christianity, and foreigners were typically targeted by witch hunters, with the pretense of rooting out actual black magic merely a thin veil thrown over the xenophobia behind it.

Horror is full of witches (and vampires, and monsters of all sorts, really) that can be read as metaphors for fear of foreigners, most often foreigners hailing from Eastern Europe in the early days. The Accursed turns this trope squarely on its head by centering on a family of gifted witches from Balvania, a fictional Balkan state (that appears to have been borrowed from DC Comics). The Balkans are a somewhat nebulously defined region, historically including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia in their makeup of states. The premise of The Accursed is that these states are home to sisterhoods of witches, many of which emigrated to escape persecution, including the sisterhood of Hana (Yancy Butler), Naida (Melora Walters), and Aishe (Jena Carpenter), and their enclave of friends and relatives from Balvania. In the United States, the Balvanians could freely practice their traditions. The major conflicts all came from within.

When Aishe’s husband, Tamas, cheats on her with Hana, Aishe flies into a blind rage at the betrayal, killing Tamas and placing the beginnings of a curse on Hana. She is killed before she can speak the final words of the curse, but Naida warns Hana that her rage was so great, her spirit could still speak the words as it rises from her body. If this happens, Hana’s entire bloodline will be killed by someone she loves. To stop it, she must sacrifice the hand that killed Aishe, and the hand must never be removed from Aishe’s mouth.

22 years later, Hana and Naida have families of their own, and have carefully guarded and hidden Aishe’s body ever since her death. But on the day her son, Petar (George Harrison Xanthis), marries the woman of his dreams, Sunny (Izabela Vidovic), Hana lets down her guard just a little. And what slips through, not even clairvoyant niece Zara (Maiara Walsh) could see coming.

The Accursed is, in general, very good. It has some real emotion and gravitas, with characters that are more morally complicated than the average heroes and villains. The cultural flavor adds to the story and doesn’t feel like it was thrown in for the “Ooh, creepy foreigners!” value. They maybe didn’t need to make up a country to pull it off, but that’s just my opinion. The Accursed‘s mixed-bag Balkan culture has more flavor than most depictions of Romanians/Croatians/Bulgarians/etc in other horror movies.

However, some very weak performances muddy the waters, and there’s a lot of unintentional comedy ruining the otherwise delicious tension. The timeline seems a little muddled, and this muddles the story at times. The final shot is also a cheap jumpscare that ruins what had been a solid gut-punch of a closing scene.

Despite its issues, The Accursed is one to check out. It’s not too gory, and emotional drama is the core of it, which makes for some very effective horror when it doesn’t rely on gimmicks.

 

7 out of 10

 

The Accursed
RATING: NR
Runtime: 1 Hr. 24 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By:

 

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About the Author

Elaine L. Davis is the eccentric, Goth historian your parents (never) warned you about. Hailing from the midwestern United States, she grew up on ghost stories, playing chicken with the horror genre for pretty much all of her childhood until finally giving in completely in college. (She still has a soft spot for kid-friendly horror.) Her favorite places on Earth are museums, especially when they have ghosts.
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