David Freyne’s new Irish horror film, The Cured, is one of the most original and intelligent zombie films I’ve seen in over a decade. It imagines a world in which a cure has been found for the infected and what happens after it is administered.

There are a couple of caveats, you see, to the film’s cure. It only worked on about 75% of the infected, and those who were cured remember every moment and every atrocity they committed during the infection.

When the uninfected population found out about that last side effect, things began to get ugly for the cured. It’s assumed that because they remember their terrible actions then they could have controlled them, and if they could have controlled them, they should not have committed these acts in the first place.

They are pariahs and some are taking action against those who treat them poorly.

Enter Senan played by Sam Keeley. The treatment worked for him and unlike many of the cured, he has family, an American sister-in-law named Abbie (Ellen Page) still living in Ireland with her son, who will take him in and give him a place to live as he tries to re-integrate into society.

It was not an easy role to portray, Keeley told me in an interview earlier this week.

“Finding that mental space wasn’t fun,” Keeley said. “I looked into people who have been released from prison after committing murder or manslaughter and sex offenders who have been through the system and have to find a way back into society.”

Once inside that head-space, he had to keep “one foot in the door” throughout the shoot to hold onto that bleak outlook no matter if he was on set or not and he admits it took “a lot of red wine and a lot of hot baths” to deal with that bleak emotional center for the seven weeks of filming.

Still, the results were ultimately brilliant and Ireland was the perfect setting for a film of this nature. The tiny island nation has dealt with more than its fair share of political and social upheaval and the oppression of its citizens by various regimes, and Keeley says that changes a people.

“It creates a kind of character that’s unique,” he explained. “This is just another version of the political and religious upheavals we’ve had in this country, and I think that creates a hotbed environment for interesting filmmakers and stories and characters.”

They reinforced this connection to Ireland and its people by filming entirely on location.

“Abbie’s house was a house in Dublin; those streets are Dublin streets,” the actor pointed out. “The prison where the infected that couldn’t be cured were held was a prison in Belfast that held prisoners up until only recently.”

This last location was particularly difficult to work in according to Keeley. There was very little natural light or ventilation and the walls would quickly begin to close in on them.

“There’s no life in there,” he explained. “It’s specifically designed to numb a human’s senses so we had to take a lot of breaks while the crew switched out camera positions or we’d go crazy.”

At the end of the shoot, the actor says, it was all worth it, and he learned a few lessons along the way.

“I think it just made me very mindful of the world and the things going on it; there’s a refugee crisis going on right now that no one is talking about,” he said. “I think the world is crazy, and I think doing a film like this, even though we’re not beating people over the head with a message it’s enough to remind you that everyone has something going on. In a way, it just kind of kept me in check in terms of being aware of other people’s situations. It was very humbling.”

The Cured releases in the US on February 23, 2018.