A CURE FOR WELLNESS ½
2017, R, 146 mins.
Dane DeHaan as Mr. Lockhart / Jason Isaacs as Volmer / Mia Goth as Hannah / Carl Lumbly as Mr. Wilson / Lisa Banes as Hollis / Ivo Nandi as Enrico
Directed by Gore Verbinski / Written by Justin Haythe
Verbinski's A CURE FOR WELLNESS is one of those head scratching films that
leaves you with overwhelming feelings that it should have been infinitely better
than the final product.
The film marks a
return to the psychological horror genre that the filmmaker once tackled
early on in his career with THE RING, not to mention that, visually at
least, it's as breathtakingly shot and endlessly sumptuous to look at as
anything he's made. A CURE
FOR WELLNESS also benefits from an intriguing and potentially ambitious
premise early on that genuinely enthralled me. Alas, what started with such an abundance of creative promise
is a work that stumbles and lumbers around a self indulgently bloated
running time of two and a half hours, and by the halfway mark the whole
enterprise begins to lose momentum. That's
a shame, because there's a great film lurking deep beneath A CURE FOR
WELLNESS that's desperately trying to see the light of day.
budgeted $40 million American-German thriller establishes itself very early
on as a penetratingly atmospheric work right from the get go.
Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a
young up and comer at a prestigious New York based financial company
that's trying to rise the corporate ladder as fast as he can.
He's given an opportunity by his higher ups to ascend when they
give him a highly unusually assignment: He's to travel to the Swiss Alps
to a secret and isolated spa to locate and return his company's CEO,
Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), who journeyed to the establishment, but
never returned home from it. His
firm desperately needs Pembroke back to complete a much needed and highly
lucrative merger for the company. Initially,
Lockhart seems reluctant, but then when his employers reveal that they
have dirt on him that could easily get him in trouble with the law, he
easily acquiesces to their demands and makes the journey.
arrives at the spa it seems like a heavenly oasis in the mountains
surrounded by ample natural beauty. At reception he's greeted with some roadblocks in terms of being
given access to his CEO, but after some belligerent negotiating he's granted a
meet-and-greet with the spa's head honcho, Doctor Volmer (Jason Isaacs),
who reveals to him that the spa specializes in unique water treatments for
its clients to
stave off aging and disease and give them a new lease on life.
Lockhart is finally granted access to Pembroke, but he's a bit
startled to discover that he has no desire whatsoever to leave and return
to his company, at least until he is "cured."
Tired and more than a little frustrated, Lockhart leaves the spa to
return back to a nearby village, but his car careens off the round after a
horrific collision with a runaway deer. When
he awakens several days later he finds himself back at the spa - admitted
as a patient - with a broken leg. Doctor
Volmer assures Lockhart that he will be well looked after while
recovering, but the longer Lockhart stays in the facility the more
sinister things he notices about the doctor's therapeutic methods with his
indicated, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is replete with exquisitely crafted
imagery. Verbinski is
certainly no stranger to helming multiple films with meticulously
envisioned and executed aesthetics (see the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
films and the terribly underrated animated film RANGO),
and A CURE FOR WELLNESS all but reinforces the director as a supreme
cinematic visualist. The
striking attention to detail in the frame is astounding at times, not to
mention Bonjan Bozelli's ominously stunning cinematography, which often
paints the screen with a sheen of blackness when he's not evoking Eva
Stewart's bravura production design of the spa itself.
The getaway serves as a chief secondary character in the film, and
the manner that Verbinski and company envision a wholly audacious sense of
style and ambience is one of A CURE FOR WELLNESS' largest strengths.
On a level of transfixing imagery, this is one of the most
handsomely shot films in many a moon that deserves
big screen viewing.
The opening 60 or
so minutes of the film are its most undeniably gripping, as Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe (REVOLUTIONARY
ROAD and THE LONE RANGER)
invites viewers in to take the strange and beguiling journey that its main
character partakes in. This
is not a jump-scare centric horror film in the more ostentatious fashion,
but instead is a much more effectively dialed down slow burn affair that
takes its time on establishing its characters and narrative particulars
well before unleashing scenes of cringing and unnerving torment.
But make no mistake about it, poor Lockhart does indeed find himself
placed within nightmarish scenarios the deeper he pulls the mysterious
veil off of the spa. One
moment that will make many viewers look away in horror involves a very impromptu
bit of spa dental care that's positively stomach churning, as well as a later
scene where he's forced against his will to be submerged in a water filled
isolation tank filled with snake-like creatures.
Those with intense phobias to all things slithery would be
best served skipping this movie.
going for, I think, something approximating cerebral horror akin to THE
SHINNING and SHUTTER ISLAND, with the
latter Martin Scorsese film serving as a conduit to many unmistakable
similarities in terms of tone and plot.
As a film that fosters and maintains an undulating sensation of
eerie dread that never settles in to reveal too much of the secrets of the
spa early on, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is on resoundingly assured ground.
Yet, over-scaled bloat really, really starts to taint this film
around the 90-minute mark to the point of zapping all intrigue and
momentum from the proceedings. Perhaps
the stark simplicity of the film's core premise gives way to a screenplay
that frankly becomes too overstuffed for its own good with subplots,
narrative detours, and some harsh tonal imbalances later on that are positively
jarring. This is especially
pertinent as the film awkwardly stumbles towards a climax that's as
ridiculously laughable as it is excessively revolting, during
which time face peeling monsters, subterranean chases, white robed
cultists, and even incest are confusingly thrown in to bring the
film to a chaotic and trashy conclusion that subverts everything Verbinski did
well leading into it.
How a film like A CURE FOR WELLNESS begins with such subtle and
effectively modulated nuance and then collapses into B-grade horror
sensationalism is positively stupefying.
This film is also quite thanklessly acted, which makes its latter transgressions all the more exasperating. Dane DeHaan has a tricky role playing a fairly dislikeable creep and somehow make us root for him as his character journeys down the spa's dark and hellish rabbit hole. Mia Goth is also quite memorable as the spa's youngest resident that has a very unique relationship to Doctor Volmer; she has an ethereal strangeness that serves the film well. Unfortunately, A CURE FOR WELLNESS never fully emerges as a lingering psychological horror thriller of immense power, mostly because it's overly long to the point of inviting frequent watch checking and careens towards a silly third act that felt like it was excised from a whole different film altogether. Verbinski is most definitely in his creative wheelhouse here in forging a potent looking and hallucinatory haunted house movie with an evocative dreamlike aura. Regrettably, his technically masterful efforts are stymied by sluggish scripting and a woeful lack of editorial discipline. As far as good looking messes go, this one is right up there.