A strange pandemic has swept across a small beachside community: people can’t stop dancing. It looks fun on the surface, but underneath it all, everyone is exhausted.
Marcos, however, has found a cure for this strange affliction, bringing him relief and rest. He shares the equally strange cure with his wife Alma, but soon his neighbors catch on, demanding a piece of it.
Rather than face the idea of curing his neighbors again, Marcos shares the secret source of his solution, which is both shocking and surprisingly dark.
Writer-director Gabriel Villanueva’s surreal, outlandish comedy begins with a strange and lively sequence of unbridled dancing, as a man makes his way home lugging a small cooler, all the while grooving to the music in his headphones. When he gets inside, he’s greeted with the sight of his wife dancing, and together, they make dinner, cooking up the meat in the cooler and dancing all the while. They eat, then collapse on their sofa in an exhausted heap.
This extended sequence is filmed in a realistic way, with hand-held camerawork and naturalistic lighting, but its duration and relentlessness — and its relative lack of dialogue — serves as a introduction to the outlandish premise of the film. It also sets up viewers to constantly adjust to the shifting of tones. At first the dancing seems funny, even adorably sexy, like out of a commercial for a particularly fun meal delivery service. But then as the action and dancing goes on — and the acting by the leads is played for drama — it takes on the aura of anxiety and mystery. What kind of world is this? Why dancing? How did this happen? Just what is going on here?
The film doesn’t answer these questions but instead continues its story, which is genuinely unique in idea and well-crafted in its execution. If surrealism is the taking of fantasy as fact, then the storytelling here is legitimately surreal, though livened with touches of humor and panache. (Marcos and his girlfriend are, at the very least, great dancers.) There are moments of horror and even farce — as when the whole neighborhood piles into Marcos’s home, all dancing — that are amusing, entertaining and even suspenseful.
But overall, this is a film where an audience should expect the unexpected. In this sense, the film is reminiscent of the early work by acclaimed contemporary Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who also blends surreal narratives, dark eccentric humor and a matter-of-fact presentation of extreme situations and emotions. But like Lanthimos, what makes this high-wire act work is a polished confidence in the direction and solid and committed performances, especially by lead actor Phillip Garcia, who alone in the cast seems weighed down by what’s happening to him and his community. Once we see just what knowledge weighs on his conscience, however, his weariness is understandable, as is the regret, shame and subtle heartbreak he displays in the last scene — when we see just what the cure is and what it entails.
“Cured” in many ways is a genuinely uncategorizable film that refuses to fall into neat genre lines. Its outsized concept seems comical or even out of a sci-fi or fantasy film, but it’s played with a seriousness that feels like drama. But the film’s ending and final narrative reveal resonates with the mesmerizing dread of a horror film, and is truly unexpected. The last scene itself is strangely haunting and vivid, and without giving the secret away, has the feel of a parable. It seems to say things about humankind’s propensity for destruction and its rapacious pillaging of the natural world, and it certainly lingers in the mind well after viewing.