“You just think you can do whatever you want and there won’t be consequences?” Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone) asks her husband, Asher (Nathan Fielder), this question one night as the fabric of their lives has started to fray. It’s a question that echoes through not only their home improvement efforts, but the very core of their fractured souls. The newly married couple aim to make a splash with a new HGTV show based on their “holistic” home philosophy and “passive living” perspective, collaborating with a grimey producer (Benny Safdie) whose closet is crammed with skeletons. They’d deny it – and come up with a counter-excuse that appears beneficial to the local Native and Hispanic communities to combat it – but they’re gentrifiers, planning to turn the small, low-income town of Española, New Mexico into an eco-friendly hot spot.
The Curse – An Unconventional Series
However, things start going upside down – and I really mean upside down – when Asher, through every fault of his own, is “cursed” by a young girl in the parking lot of the local supermarket. The result is The Curse, a wonderfully wacky, punishingly uncomfortable, and important condemnation of colonization and greed co-created by Fielder and Safdie.
The Curse Gallery
The Curse has its whole entire hand on the pulse, supported by an impeccable combo of writing, directing, and acting. Behind the camera, the series is rife with strong choices that perfectly inform its puzzling and nearly mystical tone. The Curse’s cinematography is nearly always in observation of Whitney and Asher, never fully in partnership with them. When they’re not being framed in the saturated sharpness of the reality television lens, the camera finds a home in hidden corners and behind windows, just far enough away from them to feel like an unwanted presence waiting in the wings. They’re constantly being watched by someone, or something. As a result, all their motives are on display, whether they know it or not. We see them on both sides of the moral high ground.
White viewers may see some of themselves there, too – if they’re willing to admit it – and yet keep coming back week after week because of the show’s comedic-yet-tense edge. Everyone in the cast is firing on all cylinders, functioning as a cohesive unit in service of the overall message while leaning into Fielder’s signature cringe comedy. The satire works because of its rich characters, made even richer by multifaceted and brave performances, drowning in ethical gray areas.
Stone’s Whitney is a tornado of contradictions, unnecessarily complicated in her quest for control. Her performance rests on an inviting, bone-deep fakeness, but it’s even more exciting to watch her let her guard down, because with it comes her façade of activism, literally every shred of it is rooted in guilt. It’s as much an addiction to being “a good person” as it is an understanding of the realities of the world she’s forced herself into. Stone’s masterful turn, full of sharp, curated kindnesses, makes it crystal clear that Whitney knows how to play the game, even while convincing herself she’s merely doing the right thing. Her life is full of blissful, oppressive ignorance, and that is as much a testament to the bold writing as it is to Stone’s impeccably concealed two-faced performance.
And then there’s her husband. As Asher shows us who he is behind closed doors, it’s evident he won’t make contact with his conscience until it’s too late. Fielder’s portrayal sees Asher low on emotion and high on logic and reason, putting those concepts before true empathy at every turn. At the same time, his character thinks of himself as a friend to the communities he’s harming. Ultimately, Fielder presents Asher as someone who thinks he’s way better than he is because of it.
The reality of Asher’s true nature eventually comes crashing down on him, and those moments mark Fielder as an actor to watch. This is his most prominent role in a scripted series to date, and the Nathan For You creator devours it with a fever, yet also effortlessly connects with the subtleties of his character’s complicated psyche. Safdie’s Dougie asks Asher, “Aren’t you tired of cosplaying as a good man?” shortly before Whitney tells him “You wouldn’t do anything good if I didn’t force you to.” Fielder takes on the most vile parts of the character and makes him both compelling and nauseating as he sways between a monotoned good and evil. His performance is deliciously demented, and devastatingly human in the face of countless wrongs. Dougie, played with a double-dealing sense of delusion by Safdie, is the perfect third-point on the bizarre triangle created by The Curse and its show-within-the-show. (Though better known for the scuzzy A24 hits he makes with his brother Josh, Safdie preceded The Curse with supporting turns in 2023’s Oppenheimer and Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.) The filmmaker/actor imbues Dougie with a sad sense of humanity for some of his darkest moments, but also a vicious, doomed sense of self waging war inside him. He gives The Curse yet another cracked moral compass, who is no less important in his attempts to sculpt real life in his own, supposedly improved image.
Equally as important in the dynamic of the series is Nala (Hikmah Warsame), the young girl who curses Asher. The central conflict only works because of her unaffected performance, providing a strong foundation of both childlike confidence and insecurity. Nizhonniya Luxi Austin, a real Santa Fe artist who fearlessly projects a disdain and disgust as Whitney and Asher’s Picurís and Tiwa Pueblo artist friend Cara is also an impressive newcomer, filling each scene with a compulsively watchable sense of dread and justified hatred for the people who refuse to see the Native experience – especially that of those indigenous to the Española area – for what it is.
Ultimately, some higher power – maybe? – puts the central couple in its sights for punishment. The Curse has a wonderfully malevolent tone rooted in the cosmic and the unexplained, and the icing on the vibe cake is the foreboding and ominous score by John Medeski. It marries both the electronic undertones of the Safdies’ film work (Uncut Gems and Good Time composer Daniel Lopatin serves as music producer here) and soundtrack cuts spotlighting musicians from marginalized communities. Alice Coltrane’s “Jai Ramachandra” becomes something of a theme song for the show, and it encapsulates the struggle to make the yearning cry of liberation heard while tapping into the unknowns lurking under the surface. There are moments where its use is spine-tingling.
Everything in The Curse is about image, from its first scene to its final minutes – and every calculated step Asher and Whitney take in between. Is the Siegels’ life just an act for the cameras, down to their land acknowledgements and the free rent they give away with abandon? The Curse wants you to know that you, too, are being watched if you blind yourself to the realities your very presence has on the people who were here long before you. (In that way, Whitney and Asher’s plan becomes – or always was – the real curse.) It’s a heady and layered show that will keep you piecing together motives, questioning choices, and mining for meaning until the cameras shut off. Frankly, it deserves a much larger conversation than the space this review allows for. But one thing is for certain. The Curse is an indictment. And it’s one the privileged of this country deserve.