A Cure for Wellness should be a film for me; surreal, Gothic imagery, sinister mystery, beautiful camerawork and plenty of 18 rated material. But… something didn’t quite work for me.
A career-driven businessman involved with the stock market, upon receiving a promotion, must travel to Switzerland and track down his old CEO so a merger could be signed for. But the letter left at the company written by his boss appears to be insane ramblings about a “Cure” for a sickness everyone has, at a clinic in Switzerland.
Gore Verbinski in recent years has only been known for directing the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (the original trilogy at least) and it is easy to forget that he in fact directed the very competent American remake of Japanese horror The Ring. So when his name is stamped on this 18 rated, Gothic surrealist horror/thriller, you might not want to be so surprised.
A Cure for Wellness follows Dane DeHaan’s character Mr Lockhart, a career-driven yes man with skeletons in his closet, as he travels to Switzerland and visits an incredibly creepy clinic/psychiatric ward which looks more like an ancient castle perched on a mountaintop. Initially, there’s a great Hammer Horror film vibe; Lockheart is escorted up a winding mountain pass by a chauffeur who proceeds to explain the eerie, dark past of the area. Lockheart, a man of the city and modern thinking, is a fish-out-of-water with the locals and the strangely unorthodox staff.
Once at the clinic, there’s an immediate sense of unhelpfulness and deliberate obtuseness to Lockheart’s demands, with whisperings that “No one leaves”… As fate would have it, he finds himself trapped and forced to investigate the clinic’s sinister origins and the mystery of its “cure”.
The film is beautifully shot. It really uses not only the gorgeous scenery of the Swiss Alps as a backdrop, but Verbinski has given interiors a richness of colour that’s both stark and clinical but also vibrant. Dane DeHaan is great in this too, it is good to see him recover after what happened in Amazing Spider-man 2…
It is great to see an original story and original film full of truly weird, unsettling and perverse imagery that will likely upset and put off audiences (I happen to like this sort of thing!) yet is so well crafted. There’s a real haunted vibe to everything here, it is an excellently directed and edited experience; it is an “unconventional” horror as it doesn’t rely on jump scares, but more in invoking a sickened sensation, an unnerving feeling, through imagery. It feels like the best piece of Western cinema meeting Eastern Horror film I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, A Cure for Wellness wasn’t as clever as it thought it was and this reviewer saw through almost all of its mystery immediately. While it does a good job developing the characters with a steady pace (this film takes its time! With a 146 minute run time!) especially Mia Goth’s character of Hannah, a girl at the clinic who apparently is “a special case”, who causes friction as Lockheart’s attraction to her stirs the ire of the clinic’s director Volmer (played by Jason Isaacs). But with the exception of a few random scenes that really didn’t drive the plot and were either inserted for 18-rated shock value (dentist drill, actually had the audience squirming, and a random scene of masturbation… what?) or felt like they were stalling for time (haunted toilet) I didn’t find anything surprising.
Which is a huge shame; I enjoyed films like Shutter Island and good, original fantastic thrillers don’t come by often.
There were some glaring continuity issues as well very early on, one occurring during the pre-title sequence! Another was when his chauffeur’s car gets visibly hit by eggs by local youths, but in the next shot the car is spotless. Come on.
It is a beautiful film and very commendable as a dark surreal thriller with really gross, shock-value moments, but really there was no mystery here and I felt a lot of my time was spent waiting for Lockheart to catch up with me.
I am a little disappointed, I feel I should be raving about this film (seriously, it should be at the top of my list) But it is by no means bad. Just because I have seen too many movies doesn’t mean you won’t get something from it. If you enjoy dark thrillers and surrealist imagery and mystery, check it out. It is a gorgeous movie to watch and deserves attention as an original piece of Western film-making.