A Cure For Wellness

March 15, 2017

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

A Cure for Wellness is a must for connoisseurs of bad movies.
A Cure For Wellness

A Cure For Wellness

Travis Johnson
Year: 2017
Rating: MA
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast:

Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Distributor: Fox
Released: March 16, 2017
Running Time: 146 minutes
Worth: $9.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

By the time we get to the third act you’ll have either given up or be rapt in the film’s sheer lurching madness…

A Cure For Wellness, director Gore Verbinski’s (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean) return to the horror fold, starts off so promisingly. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an amoral Wall Street functionary with a raft of Freudian issues (dad was a suicide, mum is sequestered in a dowdy retirement home) is dispatched to the Swiss Alps to retrieve a senior company man from a health spa for the rich and ill. Once there he finds a subtly sinister alpine-gothic retreat where beatific wrinklies are subjected to hydrotherapy by white-tuniced staff, dark hints are dropped about the institution’s dark past, and there’s something not quite right about the joint’s administrator, Dr. Volmer (he is, after all, played by Jason Isaacs, which is a bit of a giveaway).

Throw in Hannah (Mia Goth), a wan, mysterious girl with ties to whatever dark conspiracy underpins the action, and you’ve got a recipe for an old-school mystery with plenty of striking and disturbing imagery (Verbinski hasn’t lost a trick when it comes to framing an arresting shot) and, in this case, eels.

Unfortunately, what you get is a bloated, lurching, poorly paced mess of a film that has simply no idea what it wants to be. Conradian journey into the heart of darkness? Argento-lite waking dream of murder and madness? Sly commentary on the poisonous nature of modern life? Parable about the inevitable horrors of ageing and infirmity? A Cure For Wellness is all these things and somehow less.

It’s when it is tackling that last element that the film really works. The spa is populated by a horde of pallid, wrinkly elders who have a very European attitude to public decency, and Verbinksi gets a lot out of contrasting their acres of withered flesh with the young and supple DeHaan and Goth. There’s also a tooth-loss motif running through the film (there’s Freud again) that adds to the “senescence and dying” theme.

It all gets lost in the mix, though, as awkward plot complication piles on awkward plot complication, and the rather nonsensical secret of the story (involving incest, immortality, magic water and, as mentioned above, eels – lots and lots of eels) is gradually uncovered. DeHaan does good work here as the self-made business bastard in over his head, but he’s given precious little to actually do. With his leg in a cast like a latter-day Jimmy Stewart he hobbles around the self-contained world of the spa finding clues, which basically amounts to various people straight-up telling him bits of what’s going on. He makes for a poor detective, and the film severs our connection with him on that level at several points to show us important plot elements that he simply can’t witness, breaking a cardinal rule of the mystery genre.

By the time we get to the third act (which smacks of a massive re-shoot, it’s so out of whack with what has preceded it) you’ll have either given up or be rapt in A Cure For Wellness‘s sheer lurching madness, wondering what will happen next and for how long (the bloody thing is two and a half hours!) as the plot spirals out of control and incident piles upon loony, nonsensical incident, finally arriving at a pat denouement that picks up the thematic pieces the film has been laying down and basically turfs them in favour of a tidy ending completely at odds with what has gone before.

And yet… and yet…

There’s fun to be had here, if your definition of “fun” includes watching the wheels come off a handsomely-budgeted studio picture. The film is exquisitely shot, contrasting the polished hospital surfaces and crisp mountain landscape with squeamish body horror elements and milking its locations for all their worth (it was partially shot at Germany’s Hohenzollern Castle, which is really something to see). Verbinski is clearly having a ball laying on the spooky atmosphere, and even though the individual elements are frequently too on-the-nose – there’s even a creepy, murderous-looking groundskeeper, for crying out loud! – but fans of, say, ’70s-era Hammer who appreciate a little OTT foreshadowing will get a kick out of it. There’s the occasional very striking nightmare image – again, mainly involving eels – that lingers after the credits roll.

It’s still a mess, though. A Cure For Wellness is by no stretch a good film, but it’s certainly a unique kind of failure, and uniqueness has its own value. Connoisseurs of bad movies need to see this, but the rank and file had best invest their time elsewhere.

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