Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
Gore Verbinski has long been a man of many talents, be them creating a well-structured and creative story like Mouse Hunt, a trilogy of swashbuckling adventure films that put pirates back on the map with Pirates of the Caribbean, and a deceptively deep big-budget film adaptation of The Lone Ranger. Verbinski, however, has never entered the horror genre quite like he has with A Cure for Wellness, a 146 minute-long nightmare of a film with truly ominous visuals over the course of the entire picture. This is an immaculately conceived film visually, which helps masks the occasionally plodding narrative, all while constantly being about the intrigue of the premise.
The film revolves around a young executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, who finally gets himself a great lead role), who is sent out to a wellness center deep in the Swiss Alps to find his company's CEO, Mr. Pembroke (Henry Groener), who has been there for an extended period of time. Lockhart arrives at the remote spa and discovers it's like a YMCA, with older people spending their days soaking, getting massaged, and constantly drinking water, something the center's owner, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), encourages everyone to do. Lockhart initially leaves when he discovers a relaxed Mr. Pembroke unwilling to leave the spa, until he's committed as a patient after breaking his leg in a car accident.
A Cure for Wellness
Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
17 February 2017
Steve's Grade: B
Lockhart doesn't trust the wellness center's health practices, and becomes even more skeptical of them when he meets Hannah (Mia Goth), a young patient who has been living almost exclusively off of a thick brown liquid that she refers to her as her vitamins. Dr. Volmer also becomes increasingly suspicious of Lockhart, trying to coerce him into abiding by the facility's practices, which include total submersion in a deep boiler of water while tantalized and massaged by the presence of over a dozen massive, slithering eels.
Verbinski utilizes a series of long, antiseptic hallways, dreamlike cinematography, thanks to Bojan Bazelli, and a heavy emphasis on white or off-white colors that create this lucid atmosphere. It's the kind of place you find yourself trapped in during your most vivid and explicit night terrors, where long echoes make up the sounds around you and canted hallways lead to another series of rooms to the point where you never truly know where you're going nor where you presently are. The effect Verbinski and Bazelli's environment has on the viewer can only be described as dizzying, as you're plunged into this wellness center and essentially remain trapped and wayward inside, with Lockhart as your only guide.
Lockhart is far from an immune character too. Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe don't exclude him from being involved with Dr. Volmer's ritualistic procedures that are said to purify the human body. Lockhart gradually experiences a comedown in his general health, heightening his suspicions but also debilitating him to grow somewhat dependent on the facility's practices as well. Seeing the cultlike dependency on this voodoo healthcare trickery is reminiscent of the pharmaceutical-dependent culture instilled in the mindset of many Americans, so discontent and unsettled by even the slightest inconvenience to themselves. The mindset for the culture is to turn to pills or special prescription medicine, and if that doesn't work, maybe roll the dice on something you see at 1:30am during a sleepless night on local TV.
It's as if Haythe is plunging his character into the world of harmful self-care and, despite him clearly being too smart to fall for it, making a victim forced in by way of conformity and peer pressure.
Some of the imagery and sequences in A Cure for Wellness is just plain grotesque, even when the film isn't bloody. Consider the scene where Lockhart is secured in a pod that is used for distilling the vitamins that Hannah is so dependent on. His head is the only thing exposed before Dr. Volmer forces a bulky tube down his throat to fill his stomach with filthy water and live eels. The scene is more disgusting than a bloodbath.
The film's length is certainly an issue, for it takes far too long for Lockhart to get clued in to what exactly Dr. Volmer is doing to his patients. Haythe gets so involved in the setup of the film, yet there isn't a great deal of slowburn suspense in the beginning as much as there is simply an emphasis on this neatly ordered and large-scale asylum. A Cure for Wellness nonetheless entertains the viewer as much as it haunts them, presenting us with a modern Gothic hybrid of drama and horror that caters to the plot as much as it does the incredible scenery in a way that isn't disproportionately favoring the latter.