UK Release Date: 24th February 2017
Runtime: 146 minutes
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Justin Haythe
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener
Synopsis: A high-flying businessman is sent to a secluded health retreat in the Swiss Alps in order to track down his boss, but soon finds himself embroiled in something spooky and strange.
Originality is in fairly short supply at the multiplex these days. With that in mind, it should perhaps be appreciated that director Gore Verbinski, who has spent so much time at the helm of major franchise blockbusters, has decided to do something completely out of the ordinary with slow-burning horror A Cure for Wellness. On paper, it’s Shutter Island meets The Shining with a shlocky twist, but that does a disservice to how unique Verbinski’s vision turns out to be. Beyond that vision, though, there isn’t much to enjoy in this bloated chiller that’s frankly a bit of a snooze.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is an ambitious young employee climbing the ranks at a New York financial firm. His superiors send him to the Swiss Alps in order to bring back company CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener), who went off to a wellness retreat in the mountains and opted never to return. When he arrives at the facility, he meets its enigmatic German founder Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and young woman Hannah (Mia Goth), who has been at the retreat for as long as she can remember. Lockhart soon finds himself enrolled as a patient himself, until he begins to discover that there’s something darker going on here than massages and yoga.
A Cure for Wellness is a film with some really intriguing ideas, but it doesn’t seem to know how to communicate them to the audience. Verbinski could’ve done with a harsher editor who might have been a little more strict with him in the cutting room because chief among the issues with this movie is its frankly obscene length. The film meanders seemingly endlessly and has no sense of urgency to its storytelling, allowing Dane DeHaan’s central character to stumble upon plot developments rather than proactively discover them. It’s as if Verbinski thought he was creating his own Overlook Hotel with the empty hallways of the spa, but Verbinski is no Kubrick and there’s no intrigue amidst the empty space.
DeHaan is the perfect choice, though, to play the lead role in the film. He’s an actor who permanently looks horrendously ill and he has never looked rougher than he does in A Cure for Wellness. Without DeHaan’s intriguing darkness, the film would really struggle to find any way of working, but he makes the most of the unbearably strange plot. His relationship with Mia Goth is interesting and the scenes in which he gets the chance to verbally spar with Jason Isaacs really crackle with the chemistry of two top performers.
Unfortunately, Isaacs is at the centre of much of what causes A Cure for Wellness to fall apart – especially in the utterly nonsensical third act. This is a film that swans around as if it has been pulled from the arthouse strand of a European film festival for two hours, only to unleash crass exploitation trash in the final act. The film’s denouement is so horrendously misjudged that it’s as if Verbinski ceded control of the final third to a combination of Eli Roth, Tom Six and Jörg Buttgereit. There’s too much nastiness and it doesn’t fit with the slow-burn darkness that has come before.
Even without the misstep of an ending, though, A Cure for Wellness is a film that spends a lot of time wandering in search of meaning. This isn’t a movie with anything to say and it’s that which makes the bitter pill of its arse-numbing running time just a little too much to swallow. Verbinski is clearly a talented director, as we’ve seen in the past, and he has some good ideas here. He just needed a hand on his shoulder urging him to be a little more careful. Let’s call that condition Tarantino Syndrome.
Pop or Poop?
If it were a little less indulgent and marshaled its compelling performances into a slightly more logical, well-rounded story, A Cure for Wellness could have been a genuinely exciting addition to the horror canon. Unfortunately, Gore Verbinski’s lack of self control leaves it as an empty stroll that suddenly rushes headlong into a blood-splattered, distasteful finale that completely fails to help the medicine go down.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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