The Big Picture

  • The Curse explores the true horror of gentrification, revealing how the actions of wealthy, white saviors can devastate low-income communities.
  • The Showtime series exposes the delusions and rationalizations of its main characters, Whitney and Asher, who believe they are doing good while causing harm to others.
  • The series highlights the unchecked power and toxic positivity that can be truly terrifying, as it showcases the damage caused by those in positions of privilege and influence.


Horror, in many ways, is based on perspective. What causes nightmares for one person can make someone else laugh — it all depends on what each person recognizes as the true fears of the world. Made for Showtime by Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, and co-starring Emma Stone, The Curse is already cementing itself as one of the most uncomfortable watches on television. Its premiere episode initiates the series with a deep aura of discomforting dark comedy that leaves people gasping and cringing at the same time. While the creators have hinted that the show may at some point enter full horror territory, the pilot was relatively tame in terms of typical scares; Fielder claims that the first few episodes are meant as a damnation of the main characters rather than a full horror piece.

Yet it’s within that damnation that many members of the audience may find the show’s most horrific aspects. The showcase of a white, upper-class, faux-liberal couple’s bad behavior highlights just how easily people with the power all those titles entail can destroy the lives of those at a lower social rung than them. And even scarier, it shows how nonchalant and excused this unique brand of institutional cruelty can be.

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The Curse

Co-created and executive produced by Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder, The Curse is a genre-bending 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 in their new home-improvement show.

Release Date
November 10, 2023

Cast
Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie, Corbin Bernsen, Barkhad Abdi, Constance Shulman, Gary Farmer

Main Genre
Comedy

Genres
Satire

Rating
TV-MA

Seasons
1

Writers
Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie, Carrie Kemper

Network
Showtime

Streaming Service(s)
Paramount+

Showrunner
Nathan Fielder

What Is ‘The Curse’ About?

The Curse’s main cast consists of Whitney (Stone) and Asher (Fielder) Siegel, a newlywed couple and stars of a new HGTV show centered around “rejuvenating” the city of Española, New Mexico (a primary people of color city), through the creation of sustainable homes. In the scenes being filmed, it appears the couples are focusing their special brand of saviorhood on the low-income members of the community who (they believe) need assistance the most. The corrupted layers of this conceit are immediately revealed as the pilot’s first scene has the couple’s producer, Dougie (Benny Safdie), dripping water onto the face of an older woman fighting cancer in the hopes of creating a more compelling plot point for their in-universe show. Whitney storms off after this, adamantly telling Asher (Dougie’s college friend) that she will not allow anything like that to happen ever again.

While this sets the viewers up to believe that Whitney may be the moral voice in this configuration, that belief ignores a fact that defines Whitney’s character: despite her protestations and anger afterward, she still sat back and let the injustice happen. While Asher meekly supports Dougie, Whitney saves her outcry till after the deed has already been done, the scene has been captured, and the residents of one of the homes they’re working on have been thoroughly humiliated. This dynamic between the couple is a recurring theme throughout the episode and acts as a blueprint for the particular ways each will hurt the locals of this struggling community going forward.

‘The Curse’ Is a Holistic Approach to Gentrification

The two main characters of Showtime's The Curse, from left to right: Nathan Fielder as Asher and Emma Stone as Whitney.

The displacement of low-income communities is a theme introduced early into the episode, with the couple being asked about it by a local newswoman who rightfully points out that their actions in the community can be considered gentrification. Wealthier buyers moving into low-income areas, building homes and businesses, and steadily raising the rent to draw in other rich people while pushing out the existing residents is an ongoing and terrifying issue faced by many real-world communities today. Being the “compassionate liberals” they are, Whitney and Asher, are aware of this and how their actions could fall under the gentrification title, but it’s okay! Because they’re doing it correctly. They tout the fact that they’ll be building businesses to employ locals and using some of their profits to subsidize rent in the area, making it a net gain for all and leaving the city better than it was when they arrived. Yet while Whitney insists this is their mission a conversation between Asher and her father reveals the truth: yes, they are creating sustainable homes that could aid the community – but only after they’ve bought multiple properties in the area in the hopes that the show will inflate awareness of Española and bring in wealthy buyers to reap a huge profit.

Well-intentioned gentrification is an attempt to steal people’s land and homes coated in a bubbly veneer. While it may be unsurprising that the pair have ulterior motives, the interviews with the locals they’ve inspired hope within make the discovery even more sickening. Despite it not being to the dramatic level, wanted by the show’s producers multiple residents express thanks to the couple and seem to believe this kind of change could improve the lives of everyone in the city. This puts a face to these destructive acts and reminds those watching that the self-serving nature of these two may be entertaining to watch. Still, in the end, it will facilitate the financial and personal downfall of potentially thousands. In addition to all of this real-world horror, there still may be more typical scares awaiting viewers of the show. But no amount of murderers or supernatural misfortunes will equate to the pain Whitney and Asher create through every phony scene and scripted interview. And as if that isn’t horrible enough, the show displays another disgusting aspect of this practice: how people like this can keep a clear conscience while ruining so many lives.

The Delusions That Allow Saviorhood in ‘The Curse’

The three main characters from Showtime's The Curse, from left to right: Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder, and Benny Safdie.

The Siegels using an HGTV show (titled “Fliplanthropy,” a horror unto itself) to drive up the value of a city before heavily gentrifying it for their own gain is a horrendous deception. And while that is a huge factor in The Curse, it is not the focus of the show. Instead, the audience gains a glimpse into how people like this can rationalize their actions and consider themselves good in spite of them. A version of this ignorance is Asher, who proclaims himself to be moral but doesn’t possess the finesse or constitution to keep up this act. The man does various heinous things throughout the first episode, from aggressively berating a local newswoman to snatching away a $100 bill he’d just given to a young girl. It’s not a coincidence that both events began as promotions for the show and each devolved due to Asher’s callous nature and his flippant disrespect for everyone not relevant to his goals.

He ends each scenario with a desperate attempt to trade the offended something in exchange for their silence (the little girl $20, the newswoman a scoop with the potential to devastate an indigenous tribe); in his later conversation with the newswoman, he reveals how little he thinks of the people in Española he’s publicly vowed to support, claiming them to be nobodies and expressing confusion as to why she cares so much. Asher is the epitome of a “nice guy” stereotype, a man inanely persistent in his attempts to convince you of his good nature while behaving in the exact opposite way. Not only is this archetype annoying, but his character displays the distressing lengths this kind of person will go to so that their bad deeds go unknown.

The evil potential of a man with an inferiority complex is scary enough, but it’s Whitney’s behavior that speaks to the true, institutional horror of The Curse. The reason for Asher’s outburst in the aforementioned interview was due to the newswoman inquiring about Whitney’s parents; they own properties and are known as “modern slumlords” for their ruthless eviction practices and the “hell on earth” they create for their tenants. Whitney insists that she is not involved with those tenements and establishes a firm distance from her parents and their horrid practices. But then, in a sharp tonal turn halfway through the episode, we find the couple at dinner with these parents. And they’re…normal. Her mom makes inappropriate jokes, her dad is awkward with her husband, and they appear as two gentle, hippie-ish people who, in another show, would be kooky in-laws.

The Sinister Plans Behind ‘The Curse’ Make the Series So Scary

But the audience knows that these two people raving over the progress of their homegrown tomatoes have ruined the lives of countless unnamed individuals living in their properties. These are the people Whitney’s show is apparently trying to fight against; these are the practices she claims to every camera with a light flashing that she would never be a part of. In a way, this awareness and her ability to ignore it makes her mentality more twisted than Asher’s. Because while her husband claims to be charitable but clearly doesn’t buy into his own phony act, Whitney seems to fully believe in the ‘good person’ persona she’s curated — despite that the amount of evidence showing this is false could…well, fill up a house.

That, in its essence, is what makes The Curse so scary. What Whitney, Asher, and Whitney’s parents do is horrible, extremely destructive, and harms thousands of people every single day. Yet they don’t leave their offices after work and head home to dark dwellings befitting their villainous actions. They rationalize every aspect of their bad behavior and go about their lives as the protagonists of their own stories. The episode shows them constantly reassuring themselves and each other that what they are doing will be a huge aid to every person in Española, and it’s just a great plus that it will make them millionaires. They’re smart enough to know the damage of their work but have trained their minds to ignore that fact, only leaving enough internal awareness to view themselves in a good light. This self-conditioning is horrifying because it is one used in the world today by those in society who make decisions that keep others in cycles of poverty and oppression. In skewering these white saviors and highlighting the rationale used by the people who wreak so much havoc in the world, The Curse showcases just how terrifying unchecked power coupled with a dollop of toxic positivity can be. And it reveals that, truly, you never know the sinister plans hidden behind a sweet smile and the claim of, ‘I’m an ally’.

The Curse is only two episodes in but has already been presented with a complex situation whose outcome is unknown. Will it continue to show this pair decimating the lives of those around them, or will it be a story of redemption? Of Whitney and Asher discovering how wrong their actions are and working to make amends? It’s unclear now, but what is known for sure is that this first episode highlights the horror of gentrification and white saviorhood in America. Using the core cast of characters as the conduits for these social issues, the show presents a myriad of scenes that strike a deep, unsettling fear in anyone watching who understands the disastrous impacts of these matters on communities today. Hopefully, this series shines a light on these injustices and offers a route to overcoming them as a culture. No matter what, it’s clear that The Curse’s true horror doesn’t lie in blood and gore. It’s the casual cruelty of those onscreen that should scare its viewers the most.

The Curse is available to stream on Showtime in the U.S.

Watch on Showtime

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