By: BabyRuth (Four Beers) –
Tired of the same old, same old at your local cinema? Looking for something different? How about watching someone getting live eels jammed down their throat? Gore Verbinski has got you covered!
Ask your movie theater ticket booth employee about A Cure for Wellness. Possible side effects include, well, read on…
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young go-getter at a big Manhattan financial firm, is tasked with retrieving the company’s CEO from the Volmer Institute, a wellness center in Switzerland. Having been caught performing some unscrupulous business practices on a recent large win, Lockhart must accept this assignment or go to prison. Seems like an easy enough choice and hey, a free trip to Switzerland!
The reason Lockhart must go in person is because the CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener) appears to have lost his mind and refuses to leave the center, where he is unreachable. In a letter sent to his colleagues he denounces his previous corporate cutthroat way of life and claims to have found the answers at this “spa” located in a remote castle in the Alps. But Pembroke is needed back in New York to sign off on a merger, and who better to take the fall for Lockhart’s crooked dealings than the seemingly mentally unstable CEO who wants out anyway?
With that, our cocky young hero is off!
Through some exposition via the chauffeur who drives Lockhart to the institute, we learn that the mission may not be so easy peasy, since the wealthy visitors are known for never leaving. On top of that, to add to the creepiness, the institu–let’s be real here, it’s a sanitarium, was built on grounds that carry a mysterious and disturbing past.
At first glance, it appears to be a pretty run-of-the-mill place, albeit a quite expensive one. Patients clad in white robes play croquet, practice Tai Chi, and pace about the impeccably manicured grounds sipping water believed to have healing powers. But something’s just a little bit off…
When Lockhart asks to see Pembroke, he is turned away as the day’s visiting hours are over. On his trip back into town to find a hotel to wait at, he is involved in a gnarly car accident. He wakes up to find his leg in a cast and himself now a patient at the institute. And things only get weirder from there once he meets Volmer (Jason Isaacs), the doctor in charge of it all. And I do mean weird, with a capital W(TF?).
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous film. Gorgeous. Have I mentioned it’s gorgeous? Even the ugly stuff is gorgeous. And there is a lot of ugly. (Creepy, naked old people anyone?)
Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring, Rango) paints an unnerving fever dream of a world. Every shot is meticulously, and often innovatively, framed. There are some beautiful moments involving reflections that freeze-framed could hang on a wall as art.
Everything (aside from a poorly CGI’d deer) is absolutely visually stunning. The locations and settings are so perfect it is almost unbelievable that they are real (they are: the movie was filmed at Castle Hohenzollern in Hechingen, Germany).
The sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s menacing score add to the dread-inducing ambiance.
Horror fans, body horror fans in particular (you sickos!), will find some scenes grotesquely satisfying while everyone else squirms in their seats.
I dare you to not look away during the tooth drilling scene.
While viewing, I knew I recognized Dane DeHaan from somewhere but couldn’t place it (and not just because he looks like DiCaprio before his face spread out). After checking his IMDB resume I realized it was from 2013’s Metallica Through the Never which I reviewed for this site. In that review (which you can read here!) I said that he delivered an intense performance, was a great choice for the role, and that his is definitely a career to watch. I will ditto all of that here. Nearly every scene features DeHaan and we the audience see everything through his eyes. He does an exceptional job of carrying the film and fits in with the overall feel.
Welcome to where time stands still/No one leaves and no one will
The ethereal Mia Goth (dear Mia, do NOT change your awesome last name to LaBeouf!) is perfectly cast as the mysterious and childlike “special case” Hannah, who may be a link to all the weird stuff going on at the institute (Spoiler: she is). Likewise, Jason Isaacs is carving out quite a niche for himself lately as the go-to guy for creepy doctor roles (see also: The OA). He also wins the prize for the perviest onscreen moment of the year (I know it’s only February, but you’ll agree when you see it.)
All these elements fit together into a wildly demented, but captivating puzzle that is unlike anything that’s received a major theatrical release in a really long time. And that is a very, very good thing.
Much like the facade of the luxurious retreat eventually fades away, revealing the sinister prison it truly is, the sloppiness of the story begins to come more and more into focus once the initial awe of the film’s aesthetics wears off and the viewer starts paying attention to what is actually going on.
There are entire subplots that never amount to anything and seem only shoehorned in to throw the audience off. Things happen and then are never referred to again. I mean, at one point a main character supposedly dies. But then doesn’t(?).
Early on, there are editing choices that are confusing to the chronological order of the story’s events. Don’t even attempt to understand the timeframe of anything involving Lockhart’s mother. (This is perfect example of something that could have been omitted entirely and would not have made a difference.)
The characters’ decisions are often frustrating because they make no goddamn sense. For instance, an already wary-of-the-place Lockhart figures out early-on that something isn’t quite right in the water. Literally. He discovers that the H2O the residents gulp down by the pitcher is tainted. So then why does he continue to drink it?
At two points, Lockhart is able to escape into town, where he can even call his office in New York (or anyone else). Instead of getting the hell out of there for good, he manages to do the stupidest thing possible, both times, screwing everything up and landing himself back at the institute.
Most head-scratching of all, why the hell would he agree to undergo bizarre treatments like being submerged in a sensory deprivation tank when it’s obvious such “treatments” are doing more harm than good?
Because it would make a cool shot, that’s why.
And for a facility with the most secret of secretive secrets, Lockhart is able to sleuth around the place pretty easily, on crutches no less! We learn Volmer believes modern technology is the evil contributing to the “sickness” of its patients, so that may explain the lack of security cameras or alarm systems, but there are barely any locks on the doors. And the employees are so easily distracted, it’s comical. (Boobies!)
Speaking of water, it would be wise not to drink any (or any other beverage for that matter) beforehand because this film is TWO AND A HALF hours long.
While the first hour and change goes by pretty quickly –there are so many cool things to look at and creepy clues to try to keep track of – about midway it starts to overstay its welcome and drag, with several twists and turns that never pay off and then, oh god, at least two false endings (either would have worked much better than the actual ending, but we’ll get to that). After one of them, I even started collecting my things and getting up, thinking the film was over. Nope!
It’s as if Verbinski couldn’t decide which ending he wanted to use so he left them all in there, and after each just reset the character of Lockhart back to square one. To add insult to fuckery, it is often never explained how Lockhart gets back to that square one position. Or why Volmer would just keep allowing it.
So after two hours, the fake-out endings, the go-nowhere subplots, and all the red herrings we come to the actual, no kidding, we-mean-it-this-time real ending. And whoa-boy does it take a TURN. Which is saying something because all this film does is take turns, but where it goes in the last thirty minutes is unexpected. Not that it is unpredictable, because it’s very easy to see coming plotwise, but the way it is executed is bonkers as hell. It essentially turns into a clichéd horror movie ending of a final battle with the indestructible monster. At this point I just laughed out loud. Maybe that one guy who walked out of my screening after hanging in there for two hours had the right idea after all.
This one is tough. While I recommend checking out A Cure for Wellness out for the stunning visuals, dread-soaked atmosphere, great performances, and just general refreshing batshit insane differentness from everything else currently out there, the sloppy plot and marathon runtime are very trying. It’s a lot like attempting to watch an entire season of American Horror Story in one sitting. With some better editing and a reworked ending, this would have been one hell of an experience, but it’s just way too long and bloated.
A Cure for Wellness (2017) Drinking Game
(note: only participate if you don’t mind taking multiple pee breaks):
Cocktail suggestion: Vodka with gummy worms
Take a Drink: whenever anyone says “water”
Take a Drink: whenever anyone drinks the water (Hey Lockhart, STOP DRINKING THE DAMN WATER!)
Take a Drink: for every flashback
Take a Drink: eels
Take a Drink: whenever Lockhart says that he is not a patient
Take a Drink: every time Lockhart is brought back to the sanitarium
Take a Drink: geriatric nudity!
Take a Drink: whenever you catch a The Ring reference
Do a Shot: at the tooth drilling scene
Do a Shot (of espresso): when you need it
Do all the Shots: as soon as you see the bed at the end