'A Cure for Wellness'
‘A Cure for Wellness’ is the latest film from Gore Verbinski. Like all of his other movies, it looks absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, after some early promise, the bloated thriller descends into tedious cliché and repetition. After a while, the pretty pictures just aren’t worth the trouble no matter how evocative they may be.
Verbinski is one of those directors who’s managed to seem like a promising talent throughout his career without ever fully delivering on that promise. His best projects were a remake (‘The Ring’), a theme park adaptation (‘Pirates of the Caribbean’), and a family mouse hunt comedy (errr… ‘Mouse Hunt’). They all showed a distinctly hyper-stylized aesthetic and a sense of how to toy with audiences. Verbinski’s worst movies share those qualities. The difference is all in the stories. He isn’t a filmmaker with tales that he’s passionate to tell. He’s a stylist who works for hire and is forever at the mercy of the frequently disappointing scripts that land on his desk.
In this one, Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, an ambitious (i.e. corrupt) young executive who travels to a mysterious “wellness center” located deep in the Swiss Alps seeking out a colleague who is urgently needed back at the office. As is always the case in these sort of stories, all is not what it seems. The clinic is a castle-like complex that screams “Do Not Enter” right from the outset. Not only is it run by a German-accented Jason Issacs (never a good sign), but the building is an exact replica of another building that burned down decades ago, which sounds like a horrible idea.
Lockhart isn’t crazy about the place from the get-go. Then, wouldn’t ya know it, the guy breaks his leg and is forced to stay longer than intended. Rather quickly, Dr. Volmer (Isaacs) suggests that Lockhart sample some treatments, which leads to him being submerged in a water tank filled with eels. Things don’t get better from there. On the plus side, a dangerous, damaged and gorgeous young woman (Mia Goth) wanders around for him to fall for. There’s no way anything bad could possibly come of that, right? Sigh… Buckle up and get ready to expect the expected.
The film was somewhat of a passion project that Verbinski spent years struggling to get off the ground. The woozy, washed out, gothic visuals slathered all over the screen suggest that the filmmaker had a good time flexing his visual imagination. The movie is a stunner to behold, each shot lavished with a careful attention to detail to be at once immaculately constructed and to look as though it’s been shot on rotting film stock.
Unfortunately, those visuals appear to be the only thing that inspired Verbinski to make the film. The story starts out as a cliché and then quickly diverts through a number of equally irritating subplots stealing ideas out of far better movies, including ‘The Shining’ and ‘Shutter Island’. (The fact that Leonard DiCaprio lookalike Dane DeHaan took the lead role doesn’t help those unflattering comparisons.) Its confused and sloppy storytelling shifts gears in ways that are supposed to feel shockingly unexpected, but ultimately play as pointless diversions in a never-ending genre slog.
Beyond the confusing and simultaneously over- and under-ambitious mess that is the screenplay (just wait until you get to the surprise ending that you’ll see coming a mile away and will feel even stupider when it arrives), the movie is also just must too much. It trudges on for a full two-and-a-half hours, which no horror movie should, especially such a disappointing one. The cast certainly try their best in the middle of the carefully composed creepy images. Given that the major players are as talented as DeHaan and Isaacs, they at least give the movie the illusion of content for a while. Sadly, as the flick torturously drags on (and on and on), it gets harder and harder to notice their work or care about anything that’s happening.
The film somehow manages to marry the bloat of Verbinski’s almost unwatchable ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ sequels and the gothic horror overkill of the most strenuously overplayed scenes in his remake of ‘The Ring’. Perhaps that’ll feel like catnip for hardcore Gore Verbinski fans who adore his overwrought sense of cinematic spectacle. The thing is, it’s unlikely such an audience actually exists, even though the trailers for ‘A Cure for Wellness’ brag about its “visionary director.”
If that audience is hiding out there somewhere, the film might be worth a look for Verbinski completists. Otherwise, most people should just rewatch ‘Shutter Island’ instead. It sure feels like you’re watching something you’ve seen before while sitting through this pretty-looking slog, so you may as well just save the money and the trouble.