Eisenberg Hopes Career Not 'Cursed' By Film

The kitschiest of genres, a cast of hot and healthy youth, and a director-writer duo renowned for their ability to make you Scream: Cursed seems like it should be blessed.

And, if Cursed follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, it could bring the film’s fledgling co-star Jesse Eisenberg out of relative obscurity.

Unfortunately, the film’s opening weekend turned out less-than-impressive results—a paltry $9.6 million compared with Scream’s $33 million debut—likely due to unimpressive performances and a screenplay that underwent too many changes to preserve any real cinematic value.

But that failure, widely expected, does not daunt the intrepid young actor. According to Eisenberg, Cursed was “unique,” as the script developed “real characters. A lot of horror focuses on the horror. So you lose that development,” he told The Crimson a day before the film’s release.

In his first stab at the horror genre, however, Eisenberg seems to have lost his way—if not by his own volition. He certainly claims to have tried his best to prepare; “I watched a lot of Teen Wolf…A lot of movies to see the spirit [of the werewolf genre]…A lot of the preparation was more physical.”

Luckily for this horror novice, Eisenberg had the “nice” opportunity “to enter into an established tone.” Wes Craven, the brain behind Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, and numerous other gore flicks, was “very relaxed,” and according to Eisenberg, “he wasn’t domineering.”

Eisenberg’s fellow actors helped him prepare. They “taught me how to scream…They definitely helped. Josh [Jackson] was really good [in helping with] the horror part, the comedic as well.”

It seemed like his hard work would pay off. After their much-touted sensation that was the Scream franchise, Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson joined up once again. Their new collaboration is a werewolf horror flick that is meant to once again mix scares with satire.

But the qualities that carried Scream to box-office success are conspicuously lacking in their newest project. There is no wit, no genre reinvention, and no Courtney Cox. This time, things simply fall flat.

It must be understood, however, that no one could have emerged unscathed from so difficult a production. Initially scheduled to hit theaters on Oct. 1, 2004, much of the film was re-shot after Craven and producers previewed some of the initial scenes. The screenplay underwent an overhaul as well, changing seemingly vital aspects of the characters’ relations.

Originally, Christina Ricci and Eisenberg were cast as a couple; yet in the final film, the two appear as siblings. It is a change that seems somewhat risky considering the decidedly different dynamics of lovers and those of geeky brother and protective sister. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for Eisenberg’s more vacuous performance.

“We only had to change a few scenes, so everything we shot was out of context,” says Eisenberg. Thus they were able to salvage consistency in the film’s post-production. But though the actor assures that the changes didn’t affect the ultimate outcome in the quality of the film or cause the actors’ performances to suffer, it’s difficult to see how that’s possible, particularly considering Eisenberg’s past performances.

Although he had a short list of TV appearances, it wasn’t until being set opposite Campbell Scott in 2002’s Rodger Dodger that Eisenberg created some buzz in Hollywood. In the film, Eisenberg, playing the sexually curious nephew of the philandering lead character, was critically applauded for his ability to keep pace with Scott and the film’s other lead, veteran actress Isabella Rossellini.

But despite Eisenberg’s past performances, Cursed certainly lived up to its name. Eisenberg says that he will “not actively seek out” horror parts in the future—and given his experience with Cursed, no one can really blame him.

But choices cannot be unmade. Twenty-one-year-old Eisenberg, who stars alongside young Hollywood notables such as Ricci, Joshua Jackson, and Shannon Elizabeth, is consigned—fairly or not—back into the bin of obscurity, until another decent role crosses his path.

—Staff writer Morgan R. Grice be reached at mgrice@fas.harvard.edu.