Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder, and Benny Safdie are fantastic in the weirdest original series of the year.
Plot: A genre-bending drama series that explores how an alleged curse disturbs the relationship of a newly married couple as they try to conceive a child while co-starring on their new HGTV show.
Review: As I write this review, I am still unsure how to process The Curse. I am a fan of everyone involved in this project, including A24 and their continuous streak of financing the strangest projects that no one else would produce. Based on the trailer, I expected The Curse to be a satire of reality DIY shows that have grown in popularity over the last twenty years. I also expected the series to blend Nathan Fielder’s signature deadpan, semi-documentary projects like Nathan For You and How To with John Wilson. Instead, The Curse is a surreal and bizarre show that defies categorization and combines elements of multiple genres, including psychological horror, to generate a narrative that defies categorization. The Curse is a befuddling, strange, fascinating, and disturbing story about relationships, parenthood, and celebrity told through the twisted lens of Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie.
At the start of The Curse, Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher Siegel (Nathan Fielder) are a married couple working on the pilot for their HGTV series Flipanthropy. The series features the couple renovating the homes of poor residents of Espanola, New Mexico. Turning their houses into eco-friendly “Passive Homes,” which are reflective, pressurized residences, the Siegels also get the homeowners new jobs to resurrect the downtrodden suburb. As they work with Asher’s childhood friend and television producer, Dougie Schechter (Benny Safdie), the couple begins to question the ethics surrounding their project. Add in Whitney’s slumlord parents (Corbin Bernsen and Constance Shulman) as well as the questionable originality of her design ideas, and things are already looking iffy. That is when Asher offers a young Somalian girl a hundred dollars on camera only to ask for it back, prompting the tween to curse him. From that moment on, The Curse deals with all sorts of unfortunate situations that may or may not be due to the young girl’s spell. Each episode focuses on the HGTV pilot and the personality clashes of Asher, Whitney, and Dougie as well as events that range from strange to disturbing.
The trio of leads are the most unexpected combination of talent in this project. Nathan Fielder, best known for his comedy work, translates his deadpan brand of humor to playing Asher, a former casino employee who definitely has traded up in nabbing the gorgeous Whitney. Emma Stone, who has already proven herself to be one of the best actors working today, brings a balance of comedic timing and deft dramatic balance to this natural and realistic performance. Both actors are far more grounded in their performances as compared to Benny Safdie, whose work has grown from his days directing Uncut Gems alongside his brother into one of the more intriguing acting filmographies in recent memory. Safdie plays Dougie as a broken man who wants fame and success at any cost and it is thanks to his actions that the events of The Curse take place. Each episode, clocking in close to the hour mark, follows these three characters in different situations as they try to make their series work while also contending with their personal morals. There is also the wrinkle that Asher and Whitney want to have a baby which, under the fear of being cursed, adds another layer of paranoia to the overall story. The fears and challenges the Seigels face are not that different than what real people would deal with and that is where The Curse twists things into the surreal.
It is difficult to explain much of what happens in these episodes without ruining the plot twists that take the series from satire to nightmare. What I can say is that in the premiere episode, there is a prolonged conversation about small penises which features close-up looks at two distinct sets of micro-sized genitalia. Each episode reveals the awkward reality of the situations with many of the proceedings feeling like unscripted recordings gathered surreptitiously by Dougie and his cameraman. Aside from the main actors and a solid supporting turn by Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) and an appearance by Dean Cain, most of the cast feel like real people from New Mexico taking part in a fictional narrative they think is entirely real. So much of the Flipanthrophy footage looks like any home renovation series on cable while the off-camera moments feel as real as any documentary. The camera work from cinematographer Maceo Bishop shifts between reality television and a more muted and realistic look which is also complimented by the haunting synth score from music producer Daniel Lopatin and composer John Medeski.
Of the ten episodes of The Curse, Nathan Fielder directed seven, with the other three helmed by David and Nathan Zellner. On the scripting side, Fielder and Benny Safdie share story credits on all ten episodes and wrote nine with the remaining episode written by Carrie Kemper. Each Episode straddles the line between seeming like outtakes from the production of a series and a deliberate narrative. The realistic performances accent this, especially a poignant final line delivered by two extras at the end of the final episode. There is a pervasive sense of unease throughout The Curse that had me wondering if this series was just uncomfortably weird or something else entirely. It was not until the finale that Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder unveiled the simmering moment the preceding nine episodes were building towards. While each chapter successfully pulls you in, viewers will be left discussing the finale for a long time to come.
Led by Emma Stone in one of her best performances to date, The Curse further cements Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder as preeminent talents as writers and filmmakers. Nathan Fielder has grown from his comedic roots into a creative force along the lines of Jordan Peele with this series. I still cannot quite describe what this show is but I know that it is without any comparison on the small screen. The Curse is an uncomfortable watch, and I mean that in the best way possible. You will find yourself laughing, cringing, and at times, covering your eyes but never looking away from the screen. Thanks to a weekly release schedule, viewers will get to debate what will happen well into January, and I cannot wait to see how everyone reacts as this story builds toward its shocking conclusion. The Curse is weirdly wonderful and one of the best new series of the year.
The Curse premieres on November 12th on Showtime.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-curse-tv-review/