A Cure for Wellness (2016)

Directed By: Gore Verbinski
Written By: Justin Haythe
  Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan
  Jason Isaacs
  Mia Goth
  Ivo Nandi
A Cure for Wellness

A Cure For Wellness is a peculiar film, that doesn’t quite live up to it’s lofty ambitions, but is a worthwhile watch nonetheless.

Lockhart, a dead-eyed, ambitious Wall Street type is tasked by his superiors to travel to a wellness spa in the Swiss Alps to convince his company’s CEO to return to New York with him and complete important business. On arrival, the picturesque buildings and hauntingly beautiful surroundings immediately seem suspiciously perfect to the young businessman. When he fails on the first day to retrieve his boss, he travels back to the nearest village with a local driver, falling foul of a deer in the road on the way, which results in a horrific (but brilliantly realised) car crash.

When Lockhart wakes up from having blacked out, he’s back at the wellness centre, with a cast on his leg and greeted by the primary care-giver Volmer, who at once appears all too serene but vaguely menacing in his calm and purposeful gait. It’s only when Lockhart struggles to make contact with his CEO, meets the only other young patient; Hannah, and undergoes the spa’s unusual take on homeopathy that he starts to realise he’s in the middle of a deeply sinister waking nightmare.

A Cure For Wellness is a wannabe literary gothic horror in modern clothing. From the creepy interiors, to the occasionally overbearingly moody soundtrack, to the constant undercurrent of unsettling dread, it has most of the hallmarks of films like The Phantom Of The Opera and Wuthering Heights, but lacks the depth required to nestle amongst the greats of that ilk.

The lighting and cinematography are incredible from the first frame, however. The Swiss Alps are all sumptuous greens, subtle blues and spectral off-whites. The interiors of the impressive Wellness Centre (actually a German castle) are the perfect backdrop for Lockhart’s slow descent into madness and provide a feast for the eyes.

Dane DeHaan, despite occasionally looking like a rejected Leonardo DiCaprio clone, fills the shoes, or rather slippers, of the central character well. He reacts in believable ways and while initially starting the film as a loathsome money-chaser, he morphs into a much more sympathetic character the more emotional turmoil he’s subjected to. Mia Goth and Jason Isaacs are also perfectly good in their roles as patient and Doctor, respectively. Goth lends her character a much needed childlike innocence while Isaac veers more towards the theatrical, particularly towards the finale. The other patients and sanatorium staff are, at once, just the right side of suitably ominous but unnervingly congenial.

Taken as a whole, A Cure For Wellness is a stylish and compelling psychological horror, but when picked apart, one could definitely argue for a case of style over substance. While there’s plenty to engage the viewer, the story is also riddled with plot-holes and takes far too long to arrive at a handful of rather obvious conclusions. It does, however, benefit from one or two wince-inducing set pieces that may make even hardened viewers squirm in their seat.

A Cure For Wellness feels like an odd piece for Gore Verbinski, whose only other real foray into horror was 2002’s remake of The Ring, to tackle given his propensity for favouring more action packed material of late. Nevertheless, his film-making panache is surprisingly well suited to the story here, faltering and blowing it’s wad only in the final third. A more well versed horror film-maker may have done well to end the film a good thirty minutes before the actual climax, without feeling the need to tie up every last thing in a messy, fire-singed bow.

Ultimately, A Cure For Wellness isn’t a bad film, quite the opposite in fact. For the most part, it’s interesting, well-acted and absolutely gorgeous to look at but the ending left a Tim Burton flavoured bad taste in this particular horror fan’s mouth. It’s a solid piece of film-making, undermined only slightly by its cartoonish ending, so by all means, give it a couple of hours of your time and draw your own conclusions.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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