Asher and Whitney initially give off the sense of being good, generically liberal people, but their inability to see past their own stereotypes leads to massively uncomfortable sequences. Though it’s no surprise that Fielder is effective at being the butt of the joke (as in unintentionally uncomfortable moments at a local casino or while he attends a corporate comedy class), Stone’s fierce commitment to the bit is pretty remarkable too. “The Curse,” as if sensing its audience’s own skepticism, plays somewhat into the notion that Stone and Fielder playing a married couple seems a little off, but while Whitney is outwardly charming, charismatic, and beautiful, she’s masking intense immaturity and ignorance, the latter cropping up when she interacts with an indigenous artist (Nizhonniya Austin), who Whitney sees as an artistic comrade (an opinion that is clearly one-sided).
Much of what allows “The Curse” to seem almost skin-crawling in its awkwardness and discomfort is thanks to incredible sound design and patient cinematography and editing. All of these are effectively hallmarks of a more modern style of psychodrama and thriller as evinced by the indie studio A24, so it should come as no surprise that the very same studio co-produced this show. (There’s also the musical undercurrents lent by composer Daniel Lopatin, as the soundtrack seems to shriek even as the characters’ voices stay low.) Though the episode lengths vary, many clock in around 50 to 60 minutes and are replete with long takes, slow camera pans, and a consistent sense that we’re almost spying on the events of the show. Where the handful of show-within-a-show scenes are predictably polished, shiny, and fast-paced, the rest of “The Curse” is filmed in a beyond verite style, implying that the cameras filming the series are as hidden as possible to allow the potential dissolution of a shaky marriage to crumble without any true intrusion.
As such, “The Curse” often feels discomfiting and disturbing. There is always, always the sense that something terrible is about to happen on this show, whether or not a child’s curse can be pointed to as the deciding factor. The long, slow burn of a buildup is almost a bit more satisfying than what comes after; the promise of something freaky and possibly scary can’t always be matched by what actually arrives. If that seems vague, well … you’ll just have to watch “The Curse” to understand, because putting words to what happens in the series can’t hope to match up with the show itself. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but “The Curse” is, like other Fielder and Safdie projects, a distinctive, unique, and weirdly unnerving commentary on modern culture, as refracted and warped as the mirrors that constantly confront its characters.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
“The Curse” premieres Friday, November 10, on streaming and on demand for Paramount+ subscribers with the Paramount+ with Showtime plan, before making its on-air debut on Showtime on Sunday, November 12, 2023.