A Cure for Wellness *** / *****
Directed by: Gore Verbinski.
Written by: Justin Haythe & Gore Verbinski.
Starring: Dane DeHaan (Lockhart), Jason Isaacs (Volmer), Mia Goth (Hannah), Ivo Nandi (Enrico), Adrian Schiller (Deputy Director), Celia Imrie (Victoria Watkins), Harry Groener (Pembroke), Tomas Norström (Frank Hill), Ashok Mandanna (Ron Nair), Magnus Krepper (Pieter The Vet), Peter Benedict (Constable), Michael Mendl (Bartender), Maggie Steed (Mrs. Abramov), Craig Wroe (Morris), David Bishins (Hank Green), Lisa Banes (Hollis), Carl Lumbly (Wilson), Tom Flynn (Humphrey).
I wish we lived in a world in which Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness was a box office hit – instead of it bombing, which it pretty much did in its opening weekend. This isn’t because the film is particularly great – or even all that good (it’s not) – but because this is a large budgeted film that takes genuine risks and chances for the entirety of its two-and-a-half hour runtime, and even if the film flies off the rails at some point, it’s interesting to see how it does that. No, A Cure for Wellness isn’t a very good film – but in a world in which most wide-release, big budget films have become interchangeable, it’s certainly different.
The film stars Dane DeHaan as Lockhart – a young Wall Street asshole, who is sent by his firm to a spa in Switzerland to retrieve their CEO – Pembroke. There is an upcoming merger, and Pembroke has seemingly gone crazy – refusing to come back after his vacation. Lockhart is the one chosen because he has apparently done something that will get him in trouble with the SEC – but the Board tells him if he gets Pembroke back, they’ll make that go away. When Lockhart arrives, it at first seems like a normal spa, catering to the ultra-rich and aging – one built in the Swiss mountains, on top of some sort of special watering hole. But it doesn’t take long before Lockhart starts hearing stories about the places distant past – when it was a Castle, and a Baron, obsessed with his bloodline wanted to marry his sister – and the villagers who burnt the place done. And everyone there seem more like cult members than people on a spa retreat. And the head of the spa – Volmer (Jason Isaacs) is one of those creepy people who is incessantly happy all the time. When Lockhart tries to leave – he gets into a car accident, breaking his leg, and ends up back at the spa – but now as a patient. He’s still trying to reach Pembroke, but they won’t let the two of them speak. He is also drawn to Volmer’s daughter Hannah (Mia Goth), a strange young woman, who acts even younger than her age – who is at the spa, in an old fashioned dress, riding a bike everywhere.
There is so much to A Cure for Wellness that I liked. The visual look by director Gore Verbinski and his team is distinct- everything drained of color, but not in a way that simple recalls Tim Burton or other such directors. The clinic/castle is a wonderful example of production design, and creates memorable locales – the pristine, cleanliness of the room, the well-manicured lawn, that barely hides dark gates leading somewhere vile. The underground levels, in which horrible things happen. This is a Grand Guignol film – something that could very well have been (and perhaps should have been) made in black and white. This sort of thing is tough to pull off these days – Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island being the exception – and visually, at least, A Cure for Wellness comes close. Verbinski has even perfectly cast the main roles, both in terms of acting ability, and more importantly (to him anyway), because they all perfectly look the part. Dane DeHaan will have a career as long as directors need snide, contemptible, entitled assholes – he’s got a face you want to punch – and even if he’s the hero of the movie, it’s not because you actually like him, it’s because you have no one else to side with. Mia Goth delivers an excellent performance, which is impressive when you consider how underwritten her character her. She looks the part – and I think her performance helps (a little) to get over some of the questionable things to the move does to her. Jason Isaacs is essentially playing his character from Netflix’s The OA again – this time with a German accent (for the record, I really liked the first episode of The OA – and disliked every subsequent episode a little more than the last, until the finale, which was downright awful).
There are too many problems with A Cure for Wellness though to really be a good movie however. At two-and-a-half hours, the film is way too long, and struggles to maintain a consistent tone. For the most part, unless you’re Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick – don’t make your horror movie this long, because all it does is draw out the suspense for so long that the audience is going to start thinking about all the ways your film doesn’t make sense (and in A Cure for Wellness that is a lot of way). The film seems to want it have it all ways – at times being subdued – a slow burn horror film, at times going for the jugular with the blood, and in the final act, going batshit crazy over-the-top. Had Verbinski picked a tone, it may have worked a lot better than this tonal mess of a film.
Still, what we are left with is a film that has a lot of memorable moments. If you were creeped out by eels before, this one will give you nightmares. Or a dental surgery scene that will haunt me forever. A strange sequence at the local bar – that starts with Mia Goth dancing, that goes kind of crazy. The strange final shot of the film. A Cure for Wellness has moments that will stick you, no matter how silly the film as a whole is.
I really do wish there was more of a market for a film like A Cure for Wellness – that there were more people out there willing to take a chance on a film this weird. If people don’t go see something like this, Hollywood won’t make anything like it anymore – they already barely do as it is. I’m not going to claim that the movie is great – or even good – it isn’t. But you’re not likely to forget it anytime soon.