Gore Verbinski’s return to the horror genre marks one of the strangest wide releases by a major Hollywood studio in recent memory. With visual cues and references paying homage to everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Wojciech Has and sequences that are, for lack of a better phrase, batshit crazy, A Cure for Wellness certainly gets points for originality.
As the picture opens, a smarmy Wall Street type known as Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who has just secured a major account for his bosses, is told that he must travel to the Swiss Alps to recover a partner from the firm who traveled to the spot to attend a famed spa and never returned. To blackmail the reluctant Lockhart into going, the partners refer to nebulous behavior on the anti-hero’s part that should, perhaps, have been better drawn out.
Regardless, Lockhart ends up at the spa, where he is instantly regaled with creepy tales of yore regarding a baron who lived at the locale 200 years ago and how his house was burned down. Even creepier is the spa’s lead doctor, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who constantly insists that Lockhart has the place all wrong and that the man, Pembroke (Harry Groener), whom he has come to retrieve is not being held against his will. Despite the doctor’s attempts at good natured banter, something seems off about the guy.
And, indeed, it turns out that Lockhart’s vibe about the joint isn’t far off. I won’t give away the film’s various twists, but suffice it to say that the history surrounding the spa comes into play and there are some creepy goings-on happening around every corner, albeit a few of them never very well explained (what’s with the deer in the sauna?).
One of the picture’s finest attributes is that it looks amazing. Nearly every shot is gorgeously composed and there are some truly memorable images in A Cure for Wellness – for example, an angle of a train wrapping round a mountain, a car driving on a deserted mountain road (that obviously pays homage to The Shining, from which this picture takes many cues), a group of people dancing as the world burns around them, a gorgeously eerie image of Manhattan buildings by night and a shot of a young girl walking around a sunlit fountain.
My biggest complaint about the film is that it’s too long by at least 30 minutes. Much like The Shining, Verbinski is aiming here to create a horror epic and the picture takes a long time too get where it’s going. As I said, in my opinion, too long. One scene that I could have done without is the obvious sequence during which Lockhart believes that he is convincing the spa’s other guests that they are not getting better at the place, but worse, only to find that they don’t agree with him.
The film’s final 30 minutes are completely nuts, almost anarchic, especially considering that this is a Hollywood film. I’ll give Verbinski this: A Cure for Wellness is a genre movie with cajones. It’s often gloriously weird, occasionally kinky, sometimes outright inappropriate and literally all over the place. It’s not a great movie, but it has some great scenes and incredible scenery. You may or may not like the film, but I doubt you’ll forget it.