(Photo Manipulation by Nathan Rubin)

House flipping, native land rights, Shabbat dinner and children setting curses on strangers in the parking lot. These are just a few satirical and mystic elements that actors Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie brought to life in the Nov. 10 premiere of “The Curse.” Simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, the show provides an exercise in comic discomfort for the audience.

Releasing in 10 increments of roughly hour-long episodes, “The Curse” will be dropping weekly until Jan. 12, 2024. Fielder is known for his comedic reality TV shows, including “The Rehearsal” (2022), which was released in July 2022 and received critical acclaim.

In “The Curse,” Asher Siegel, who is played by Fielder, and Whitney Siegel, who is played by Emma Stone, star in the fictional house-flipping TV show “Flipanthropy,” which is set in Española, N.M. They renovate houses, interview locals and partner with trendy businesses to increase workforce opportunities. The Siegels and “Flipanthropy’s” production manager Dougie Schecter, who is played by Safdie, are all self-centered in their actions. Dougie wants the money, and Asher and Whitney want to be seen as good people while still taking money from Whitney’s controversial, slumlord parents.

The casting in “The Curse” is excellent. Fielder embodied the discomfort in the show, which is common for the characters he portrays, such as in “Nathan for You” (2013) and “The Rehearsal.” To contradict this, Stone provides a more comforting, genuine character. The “La La Land” (2016) actress personifies innocence, aspirations and kindness. Her smile is enough to make the community of Española want to believe her when she says she genuinely cares about them.

The show’s disturbing nature is what stands out most of all. In the first scene, Dougie puts fake tears and blows menthol into the eyes of an elderly Española local. “The Curse” is a show about the white savior complex and gentrification at its finest. Española is a Black and Latino community, so Asher and Whitney’s presence in the town is seen as a disruptive force even though they claim to be helping the community. Their whiteness stands out in the neighborhood, making it clear that they do not belong and are not necessarily wanted. Asher, Whitney and Dougie work together to dehumanize the community for their own gain.

The visuals and shots in the show add elements of creepiness and horror. Every scene is muted, lacks color and is set in big landscapes with not much to offer, creating a sense of eeriness, as if something terrible is about to happen but never does. “The Curse” is also set in a desert, making the Siegels’ appearance there in the first place even more strange. Of all the places, why did they choose Española, somewhere where they seem to have no actual connection to? This question looms over the audience, adding a sense of confusion, and anticipation to find out the answer. 

The music and score of “The Curse” also contribute to the feeling of looming horror. In the middle of the episode, Dougie prompts Asher to give a little girl asking for money some cash. After Dougie gets the shot of Asher giving the little girl money, Asher quickly snatches the bill back, refusing to give up $100, and the girl responds by putting a curse on him. In this moment, Asher is frantic, confused and alone as long, minor notes are drawn out eerily, creating an overall disturbing environment. The music then continues throughout the rest of the episode.

All in all, Fielder created an uncomfortable, awkward show with “The Curse,” making the audience want to look away while simultaneously enticed to keep watching. Where the show will be heading after episode one — or even what it is about — is unclear, which makes “The Curse” all the more interesting. In any case, we will likely see the characters grow more comfortable with being evil as the bigger story unfolds.

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