Review: A Cure for Wellness
Gore Verbinski burst onto the mainstream scene with films like Mousehunt and The Mexican, but it was his 2002 horror remake The Ring that really started to turn heads in Hollywood, so much that he was hired to helm Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise before the film even released. Fifteen years later, Verbinski returns to the horror genre with A Cure for Wellness, crafting an equally mesmerizing story encased in apprehension and a foreboding nature, but more than anything, shows that the director has a masterful touch for this sort of material.
The film stars Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines) as Lockhart, a young up-and-coming corporate executive who is blackmailed by his superiors into traveling to the Swiss Alps to retrieve their CEO, who has yet to return from a luxurious retreat up in the mountains and may have even lost his sanity. A near-fatal car crash outside of the facility confines Lockhart to the facility, forcing him become a temporary guest until he becomes well enough to leave. At the same time, Lockhart is drawn into a mystery surrounding the spa, where visitors continually chime "why would anyone want to leave?" as the bizarre history surrounding the estate itself comes into view.
What I liked so much about A Cure for Wellness was that, just like last year's big February horror release The Witch, there isn't a big reliance on jump scares to make the audience squirm in their seat - instead an abundance of ghastly content derived from a classical tradition of horror happens right before your eyes, and the film is all the better for it. Every major scene has a direct sense of focus in terms of playing with the viewer's preconceived notions of what kind of horror could potentially arise, and then mining that to its very core. There are some really farfetched types of imagery on display - most notably the eels which are something of an insignia for the institute, and a fixation on the properties of water - displayed in such a way that it will potentially raise anxiety in those who hold phobias for either one. On that note, its such a visually sumptuous Gothic undertaking (thanks to DoP Bojan Bazelli, who shot Verbinski's The Ring and more recently, The Lone Ranger) that one cannot but help feel enchanted by the imagery on screen, wanting to become immersed in this scenario that unfolds, as it builds towards horrific sights and an explosive finale which entertains while veering a little too close to Pirates-level Verbinski.
A Cure for Wellness boasts a number of characters, but the only three who really get any sort of concrete development are DeHaan's Lockhart, Jason Isaac's Dr. Volmer who runs the retreat, and Mia Goth's Hannah - a sheltered young girl who has lived at facility all of her life. DeHaan is able to gracefully make the transition from cocky yuppie a-hole in the first half, to someone attempting to preserve their sanity against the odds for the rest of the film's runtime. This is his most showy performance to date for sure, and he proves that he has the chops to handle more leading parts like this. By comparative measure Isaacs, no stranger to antagonistic roles, maneuvers between guise and deceit every time he shows up on screen up. And Goth, who audiences will mostly remember from her small part in Nymphomaniac Pt. 2, does a phenomenal job in playing the most crucial role of the entire story, one which doesn't come to fruition until the film's final act comes about.
It has to be said that A Cure for Wellness is not at all the kind of film I expected a major studio like 20th Century Fox to finance and produce, as it is 1) obscenely long at 150 minutes, 2) a full-bodied original horror film, the kind that you rarely see get greenlit anymore, and 3) goes to some really batshit crazy places - to the point where it feels like a cross between Shutter Island and an expensive contemporary Hammer horror film. It may also be the scariest film to deal with things lurking in the water since Jaws, as strange of a comparison that is to make. One can also see a couple ideas planted within the narrative that feel like they could have easily fit into Verbinski's proposed adaptation of BioShock which never ended up happening (though if this does well at the box office, please let someone in Hollywood greenlight that).
A Cure for Wellness is exactly the kind of film that genre fans plead for there to be more of, and all things considered the film mostly works. I get the feeling that a good chunk of moviegoers are going to absolutely hate it, mostly from how inane the premise gets to be, but the rest should be thoroughly satisfied with the end result. While very long, it has remarkable pacing, and features several twisted moments that are sure to stay with moviegoers long after the car ride home from the theatre. For the sheer amount of creepy pleasures it provides, A Cure for Wellness receives a well-bodied recommendation.