Entering 2017, there were a few films I was looking forward to as a film fan. In January, I was excited for the return of two guilty pleasure films of mine in “Underworld: Blood Wars” and “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” as well as the return of M. Night Shyamalan’s dignity in “Split.” But February holds something special: an original horror film. “A Cure for Wellness” dropped its trailer in Oct. 2016, I was stunned by its visual beauty and subtle homages to similar films before it. But “A Cure for Wellness” felt different, with “Pirates of the Caribbean” helmer Gore Verbinski behind the camera (who also was responsible for 2002’s “The Ring”), this felt like something that could break the barriers on what it means to be an effective horror film.
And with that, I am learning to not trust my instincts anymore, since “A Cure for Wellness” left me feeling sickly.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young, rising business executive who is tasked by his superiors to travel to Switzerland to retrieve the absentee CEO of the company, who recently sent a letter declaring his intent to live at the “wellness center” he initially intended to reside in for only two weeks. After being denied access to remove the CEO from the grounds, Lockhart heads back into Zürich to go home, but is injured severely in a car accident. After he is taken back to the wellness center, the charismatic head of the facility, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) begins to prescribe strange treatments for Lockhart. With the help of a younger, tragic patient (Mia Goth), Lockhart must get to the bottom of the strangely sinister facility before it’s too late.
The first thing to be discussed when talking about “A Cure for Wellness” is its pace. At 146 minutes, this is an almost unfathomable length for a horror film, but the film manages to make it work for the most part. Much of the first two acts are quieter build-up to the explosive finale; a finale which never happens. This is a slow-burn movie that does begin quite interestingly, so when building a lore this rich and engaging, leaving it with the incredibly messy third act we get is nearly insulting. What starts as an oddly off-putting look at the horrors of both a life of care and a life of frenzy ends in something that feels far too cartoonish and cheesy to excuse.
DeHaan is a good actor, this I know, but I have yet to see him take on a major role that I felt glad about seeing him in. Sure, Lockhart as a character is pretty repulsive, but DeHaan somehow makes the role feel oddly sinister for no reason. This does make the film feel more off-putting than it does already, but there’s no real explanation as to why he does this, which makes me think a safer choice in someone like Aaron Taylor-Johnson or Eddie Redmayne in the role.
Meanwhile, supporting roles are much kinder in “A Cure for Wellness.” Despite his obvious villainry behind the scenes, Isaacs makes for a perfectly charismatic villain in this film. I always like when I can find a villain oddly charming and likable, much like Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds,” we all see the atrocities committed by the character and greatly wish for their comeuppance, but are still somehow drawn to them in a strange way. While Isaacs does good work in this film, the real star of the film is Goth, who finds a tragic sort of benevolence in the character of Hannah, who might just be the only true sympathetic character in this movie. Goth is a strangely magnetic actress, whose almost child-like qualities lend themselves almost perfectly for the challenged Hannah. Goth is a star in the making.
Nearly every trailer of the film touts the words “From visionary director Gore Verbinski,” which is a strange way of putting it, given that no one I know would go so far to even imply that Verbinski is a visionary filmmaker. Yet, his eye for horror was wonderfully realized in “The Ring,” which made his return to the genre a hot ticket. Yes, “A Cure for Wellness” is a beautiful film visually, but to be a true visionary, one must be able to tackle both visual splendor and thematic splendor. However strangely attractive “A Cure for Wellness” is, it isn’t the sum of its parts and feels a bit incomplete this way.
I would say my biggest complaint with “A Cure for Wellness” seems to be in its lack of initiative. The trailers for the film touted a surreal, almost insanity-like aesthetic to it that would play with the psyche’s of every audience member in attendance, but the film uses these visually sumptuous scenes sparingly, so much so that we’ve seen nearly every one of them in the trailers. This film isn’t nearly as cerebral as it could’ve been, or even marketed itself to be. In the end, “A Cure for Wellness” becomes more of a strange, Tim Burton-like (and I mean recent Tim Burton) take on “Shutter Island,” but without much of the deep seeded meanings that “Shutter Island” held.
I wanted to like “A Cure for Wellness” so badly, but it’s a film that asks a lot from the audience without any of the payoff on theirs. I wanted this to be another stride for big-budget horror, as well as breaking down barriers about the length of horror films in Hollywood, but it simply relished in its own, sometimes self-important existence. “Going there” only gets you so far in a film like this, and however shocking some of the material in “A Cure for Wellness” is, if one doesn’t know what to do with said material, then we have an audience who invested way too much time, thought and energy in something that is far less original than it claims to be.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Ivo Nandi, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener, Susanne Wuest.
Runtime: 146 minutes
Rating: R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.
Regency Enterprises presents, a Blind Wink/New Regency production, a Gore Verbinski film, “A Cure for Wellness”