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 miraculous treatments are not what they seem.
There won’t be another mainstream Hollywood film similar to A Cure for Wellness released all year. After having viewed the twisted and psychedelic mind-bender from director Gore Verbinski (The Ring and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), what stands out front and center is the shock that 20th Century Fox actually greenlit a mid-budget hard-R thriller filled with taboos and uncomfortable material, all wrapped up in a beefy 146 minute running time. Instead of asking questions, let’s just be grateful that something truly different, unashamedly odd and perverse is seeing the light of day. To answer the million-dollar question of who the target demographic actually is, well, anyone that enjoys a good mystery that feels like an acid trip peppered with highly provocative content meant to disturb one to the point where they are overcome with the urge to take a damn shower once the credits roll. Seriously, just strip naked and dump that large sticky soda all over your body in an effort to cleanse yourself of this ickiness.
Even the original soundtrack from Benjamin Wallfisch (who has worked on the harrowing 12 Years a Slave and most recently Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures) is deeply unsettling, featuring angelic hymns from young women and ominous notes that heighten the eeriness of every single scene. Now take that haunting soundtrack and place it over cinematography that brings out maximum creepiness from every environment of the Swiss Alps located healing center, whether it be recreational spa rooms, hydrotherapy pools, wide-open outdoor areas intended for leisurely sports, or underground catacombs hiding unholy secrets and more nastiness, and the result is what will undoubtedly be one of the most atmospheric and hypnotic films of 2017.
For a movie that is 2 1/2 hours, A Cure for Wellness sure is always beautiful to look at in the most demented way possible. Every hallucination or subtle piece of bizarre imagery is delicately crafted to leave some sort of impression. Even a wounded deer hobbling away from a car accident is strangely alluring, upsetting, and most importantly, a memorable lingering shot. You can only imagine what the rest of the cinematography is like, but I’ll have you know it’s top-notch and (along with the aforementioned creepy melodies), the best part of this nightmarish experience. Get ready to loathe eels for life.
Right up there with the best qualities of the movie is the idiosyncratic and unorthodox performance from Mia Goth, tasked with playing a young girl around the age of 17-19 who is not well, but in a way completely different from the rest of the patients as the medical facility’s head of command, Doctor Volmer (Jason Isaacs) points out. Hannah (Mia Goth) bears a visual resemblance to Alice in Wonderland donning a blue dress while exuding an introverted and sheltered childlike innocence that is absolutely captivating. From the moment she appears on screen (accompanied by that amazing soundtrack) it’s easy to care about her; as an audience, we know that somehow she is being mistreated or used for someone else’s personal gain and that her presence in the treatment center is not justified. Her character pulls the movie together with the performance from Mia highlighted as one of the major successes of the film.
That’s not to say Dane DeHaan is no slouch in the role of a wealthy businessman sent to retrieve his sick CEO, but all of the fired up back-talking and brooding staring can’t make up for the fact that the character makes some questionable decisions. To elaborate, a few of the major reveals in A Cure for Wellness are not that difficult to figure out early on; anyone that doesn’t catch on that something is majorly wrong with the water being served to the patients should probably just quit watching thrillers. Lockhart (I hope) is aware of this, but continues consuming large amounts of it anyway, despite every supporting character having a super foreshadowing line every 15 minutes along the lines of “Make sure you drink that water!”. Understandably, it’s not like he can just walk outside and grab a Mountain Dew from a vending machine, but on the flipside, it does take him far longer than necessary to start throwing shade at the water. He also kind of forgets about his entire mission for a while to stay around and try out some of the healing procedures, which is slightly jarring considering that he is suspect of the entire facility from the beginning. All of this also allows for the film to unfortunately dip into occasional repetitiveness. Either way, he does a great job carrying a limp on crutches and keeping audiences pointing fingers at his levels of sanity.
The bigger point and issue here is that Gore Verbinski is probably a bit too ambitious for the project’s own good. There are multiple plot threads ranging from ones focused on both past and present mysteries of the healing facility, drama regarding the parents of Lockhart and his difficult upbringing, the treatments themselves, and the character of Hannah (who is the most fascinating character in the picture). Admittedly, tying all of these threads could have resulted in an outright disaster, but Verbinski does a decent job at keeping all of the moving parts connected. However, there are some absolutely baffling moments, like a child that doodles a scary ass drawing only to never pop up again in the whole movie. Okay then. The outside village itself probably could have benefited from more exposure and exploration, and one has to wonder if a future director’s cut will do such a thing. The concept of making the film longer or shorter is a tricky area with both positives and negatives. With that said, the current length doesn’t excuse the fact that some details regarding the plot are left unanswered, or slightly confusing.
Narrative shortcomings aside, A Cure for Wellness is a visual and audio treat. Watching it is like living in a lucid nightmare; there are hallucinations and hypnotic abstract images at every turn. And while the artistic nightmare will assuredly become too uncomfortable and disturbing for quite a few mainstream moviegoers, the rest of us that want to be challenged and witness something truly messed up will come away satisfied. Trust me, this one is way out there.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★