A Cure for Wellness, 2017.
Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, and Susanne Wuest.
An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps, but soon suspects that the spa’s treatments are not what they seem.
If only all vanity projects were as masturbatory and hysterically overwrought as Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness. It’s a 150-minute homage to Dario Argento, a critique of modern capitalism, a grotesque flamboyant fairy tale and in the current climate of turgid, machine made, a copy of a copy of a copy horror cinema, it’s a refreshing excursion to somewhere new. It’s a frantic exercise in absolute excess.
It’s hard to imagine how the film was bankrolled following Verbinski’s attempt at bringing to screen The Lone Ranger, both a failure both critically and commercially (well I liked it). Yet his industry clout following half a decade hanging around Johnny Depp on a pirate ship clearly gave him certain leeway. Like his previous features, it’s far too long and all too unfocused, but for all its misgivings, there’s something to celebrate in its maddening, entirely stubborn refusal to conform.
Dane DeHaan is obnoxious Wall-Street flunkey Lockhart, who on the eve of a major merger, is tasked with retrieving CEO Pembroke from a Swiss wellness spa where he has decided to reside permanently. Lockhart at first refuses, but a pattern of dirty dealings catches up with him forcing him to travel to the mysterious spa situated in a gothic castle atop the rolling hills of the Swiss mountains where patients obsess over the purity of the water. His hopes for a quick trip are brought to a halt after he’s injured in a car crash forcing him to become a patient. Head doctor Volmer (a scenery-chewing Jason Isaacs) calls the “accident” a reason for a much deserved “forced holiday” whilst the child like, ethereal Hannah (Mia Goth) declares “no one ever leaves.”
Plotting is heavy and messy with tangential thoughts and ideas appearing with little care, which results in a finale – following many a fake reveal – that some may simply shrug, not gasp at. Yet I rather taken by the almost obsessive yearning for more; more plotting, more extremities. Everything is turned up to 11 and all the better for it.
An appearance from the ever-brilliant Celia Imrie as a puzzle-obsessed fellow resident too aroused by the mystery surrounding the spa exists purely as a device for exposition, sporadically turning up to only further Lockhart’s apprehensions. As with the rest of the film, it’s extravagant and hysterically gauche.
DeHaan, perennially sunken eyed, impresses, carrying the film even at its absolute silliest whilst the ethereal Mia Goth (imagine Alice warped by Wonderland) seems to float, quietly drifting from scene to scene as around her panic reigns. As with Jason Isaacs, ever a welcome screen presence, who chews the scenery with aplomb. Give the man a phone book and an ambiguous European accent and you couldn’t help but be unsettled.
Visually it ravishes, every frame striking and over-flowing with provocative imagery. A shot of a train passing through a tunnel becomes something far more ominous (everything brings to mind eels) whilst Verbinski’s handling of the more intense body horror material valiantly reaches for Cronenberg. A late on lurch towards Eyes Wide Shut confounds and is fantastically clinquant.
Larger ideas are lost amidst the provocative and Verbinski maybe tries too hard at sewing a yarn reminiscent of Argento, yet there’s an alluring stubbornness to it. A Cure For Wellness is a peculiar, curious abnormality.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★