Toronto Film Festival: Is there a snobbery about zombie movies?

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter at the Toronto Film Festival

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image captionDirector David Freyne with Ellen Page and Sam Keeley, stars of The Cured

Movies which generally attract awards buzz at film festivals like Toronto are dramas - and ideally ones based on true stories.

This year is no different with The Current War, Kings, Darkest Hour and I, Tonya among the hotly-tipped films.

Few comedies will stand a chance of taking home any best picture prizes - and horror films are also rarely acknowledged.

Such movies are often dismissed in awards season, but zombie films in particular have a loyal fanbase - one which seems to be growing all the time.

"I think there is for sure [a snobbery], but I think it is changing," says Ellen Page, whose film The Cured premiered at Toronto.

The actress cites the 1970s as a golden era of horror in general, adding: "I think it's been coming back these last few years, with these amazing films, like The Babadook and It Follows.

image copyrightTIFF
image captionThe Cured is David Freyne's first feature film as a director

"And when I think of how difficult it is to pull this genre off, as to how David [Freyne, director of The Cured] did it, it just blows my mind."

The film begins with the discovery of a cure for a disease which turns people into zombie-like monsters.

As the infected are reintegrated into society, they face hostility from sections of society who can't forgive their previous behaviour, leading to social unrest and government interference.

The film deals with themes of second chances and forgiveness - complex issues which aren't dissimilar to those you'd find in any standard Oscar-fodder biopic.

"When I started writing it, it was very much inspired by the recession we were suffering in Ireland," says Freyne.

"It was about the anger that I was experiencing, and people around me were experiencing - there were people losing jobs and being blamed for things beyond their control, just as the cured are in the film, and that was very much the starting point.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSam, Ellen and David at the world premiere of The Cured

"That anger fuelled the script. We didn't predict what was going to happen over the next few years but what's happened is a symptom of it.

"But like all great genre films, I think they do reflect what's happening on society - they always have. "

Interestingly, despite it being loosely billed as a zombie thriller, the word "zombie" isn't uttered once in the film.

Instead, those who have been cured are referred to as "the infected".

"It is very deliberate not to use the term [zombie]," says Freyne. "We wanted to be very careful that we create our own very distinct creature in the infected.

"They're not undead, they're not mindless brain-eaters - they hunt and behave like a pack, like wolves."

But the director says he's not trying to shy away from it being labelled as a zombie movie, as he's a big fan of the genre.

"I adore zombie films, but the idea was 'what would happen next? What's the film that starts where most films end?' And the idea of somebody being cured.

"So I'm inspired by them, and I pray to be in that genre, but if you were in this world, I think you'd naturally say infected rather than zombie.

"Zombie generally means undead, and these guys aren't undead - it's an animal infection."

image copyrightTIFF
image captionPage is known for her roles in Juno and the X-Men films

So, given that a zombie film has never won best picture at the Oscars, does Page think it's about time one did?

"Absolutely I do!" she laughs.

"I got sent the script for The Cured and was blown away. I was so compelled, I thought it was suspenseful and thought-provoking. It's like an intense family drama, but also a genre movie."

She co-stars in the film with Irish actor Sam Keeley, who praised Freyne for dealing with complex themes without being too preachy.

"You open any newspaper, turn on any news channel, it's all there, particularly in the last few years, the dramatic change in politics, the refugee crisis, Charlottesville - it's all insanity that's going on around us all the time," he says.

"But David did a clever thing by not beating people over the head with a message. He wrapped it in a way that people could absorb and then take that away."

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