A Cure for Wellness 2017
A Wall Street stockbroker (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company's CEO (Harry Groener) from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. He soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is tested when he unravels the spa's terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.
February 17, 2017
Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, and Mia Goth
Gore Verbinski is rightly described as a visionary director, having directed 3 of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies. As far as horror goes, however, he only has one genre film under his belt: The 2002 American remake of the J-Horror hit Ringu, The Ring. And while his latest feature, A Cure for Wellness, is being billed as Verbinski’s return to horror with echoes of The Shining, it actually falls somewhere in between the legitimate terror of The Ring and his family-friendly fantasy projects. A Cure for Wellness is surreal, hallucinatory, and metaphysical, but it’s not a supernatural film—and it’s definitely not The Shining. And while it earns it’s R, it’s not excessively gory.
Official Synopsis: A Wall Street stockbroker (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO (Harry Groener) from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. He soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is tested when he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.
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There’s a history of asylum-set horror movies, as this reoccurring trope encapsulates many innate and intense human anxieties: Lack of control, loss of freedom, and (most terrifying) loss of sanity. It’s a tradition that stems from Gothic literature, where these fears were first exacerbated, and still endures in films like Gothika, Shudder Island, Stonehearst Asylum, and too many others to mention. But while A Cure for Wellness fits solidly into this subgenre of horror, there’s also something unique going on here: This film isn’t set in an asylum—it’s a sanitarium.
The distinction may have been forever blurred by Metallica’s thrash-epic Welcome Home Sanitarium, but the term is not synonymous with asylum. A sanitarium is more like a spa, a place you would choose to recuperate at—indeed, a place where you’d drop serious coin for the luxury of extended chill time. This makes A Cure for Wellness a film that becomes something we fear, a beauty that turns into a beast (although anyone who’s seen the trailer knows something insidious is going on just below the surface).
The film is absolutely gorgeous, from the grandeur of the Swiss Alps to the impressive sets that seem to defy a specific era, to the teal/aqua lens filters giving everything a deceptively serene aesthetic. It’s a near-constant candy treat for the eyes that keeps viewers’ gazes glued. The film is beautifully shot and expertly presented in a manner that demands attention. This strength goes a long way in keeping moviegoers invested during slower portions of the film. Yes, the pacing is erratic, but it’s always incredibly pretty—even when it’s thoroughly macabre. While it’s not a film that relies on Special FX, those employed are brilliant, and I’m not usually a fan of CGI used for smaller details. It honestly seems like digital is catching up with practical FX technologies.
A Cure for Wellness is a long movie, clocking in at a whopping 2 hours and 26 minutes, and the length is problematic. While Verbinski is correct to allow scenes to unfold with a natural energy, the story feels overloaded, leaving this critic wondering if the director was overly ambitious or merely noncommittal about a more focused story-arch.
The effect can clearly be detrimental to the overall effect of the film. When attempting to create drawn-out scenes of tension, especially in horror, there needs to be a legitimate sense of dread/suspense and/or a powerful payoff. All too often, A Cure for Wellness attempts to put us on the edge of our seat, only to create a “Hurry up and show us already!” type of reaction. By the time the movie officially grows a set of balls late in the 3rd Act, the powerful impact is lessened by what felt like an unnecessarily extensive build-up. Were this my film, I would have chosen to either explore the themes of anti-industrialism, or a Gothic tale of forbidden love. As both, it’s a capable film, but as one or the other, it might have been fantastic.
The three leads (Dane DeHaan as Lockheart, Jason Isaacs as Volmer, and Mia Goth as Hannah) are each capable, but the combined energy between these actors creates a powerful triumvirate. Alone, each character is flawed and, frankly, unlikeable; but the tendrils that wrap them into a bizarre love-triangle, and the resulting interactions, are always compelling.
A Cure for Wellness is an anti-rat-race allegory and a twisted romance that will appeal to fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other tales of doomed love. It’s also a trippy, hallucinatory journey with Lovecraftian flair that never fails to deliver dazzling imagery. Verbinski clearly intended to give his audience something both substantial and original—and he achieves this goal. Quicker pacing and a more plausible examination of both the “cure” and the “sickness”, something to give viewers something tangible to walk away with, certainly would have been appreciated. Ultimately, it may be too much for mainstream horror fans to sit through.