Release date: 24th February 2017/Watch the trailer here
Gore Verbinski, director of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and The Lone Ranger, is no stranger to big budgets, and with one of his very first film credits being The Ring, he’s no stranger to horror, either. A Cure for Wellness is Verbinski’s attempt to combine the two: a twisted and ambitious dose of gross-out horror on a much grander scale than is typical for the genre, set in a mysterious wellness centre located at the foot of the Swiss Alps.
Following the disappearance of Wall Street CEO Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), a young executive within the company, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), is sent to Switzerland to retrieve Pembroke from his seemingly idyllic spa retreat. Lockhart quickly discovers that all is not what it seems at the wellness centre, and after repeatedly being told that ‘no one ever leaves’, the ominous statement begins to ring true for Lockhart, too. Unable to convince Pembroke to leave and with his every attempt at escape thwarted by the spa’s sinister director, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart finds himself trapped as a patient, forced to undergo all manner of the various ‘treatments’ that the centre has to offer.
The first ninety minutes of A Cure for Wellness are enjoyable, if not occasionally nausea-inducing. The cinematography is stunning, as is to be expected when the Swiss Alps are acting as a backdrop, and Benjamin Wallfisch offers up a haunting score. Verbinski creates intrigue, with stories regarding the incestuous Baron who used to reside in the Gothic castle that plays host to the wellness centre, and a surreal, dreamlike feel as the audience is subjected to some nightmarish imagery.
Unfortunately, however, A Cure for Wellness overstays its welcome by at least thirty minutes (the total runtime is close to two and a half hours), and everything begins to fall apart during the third act, lacking a build up of the suspense and excitement along the way that could have made for a far more satisfying conclusion. Instead, not only is the film’s finale eye-rollingly, frustratingly predictable, it also fails to do anything with all of the repulsive imagery that Verbinski chose to make so prominent.
The cast try their best to salvage the mess that A Cure for Wellness quickly descends into: no one plays menacing better than Jason Isaacs, and Mia Goth, as the childlike Hannah, one of the spa’s younger residents, ends up becoming the most interesting character of the film. DeHaan, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate his predisposition for unexpected roles – not many leading men would be willing to spend half of their movie impeded by crutches with their front teeth missing – yet ultimately struggles as a sympathetic hero. Verbinski has assembled a compelling cast but, as with most of A Cure for Wellness, he doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of what to do with them.
In the end, it feels like a film that is only half-finished; where Verbinski has thrown in his actors, his setting, a few semi-interesting ideas for a plot, and a handful of things to scare and disgust (stillborn animals, gruesome dental procedures, and an abundance of eels), then mixed all of these ingredients together but forgotten to bake them. There are certainly things to be admired in A Cure for Wellness – and Verbinski’s ambition is one of them – yet it can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. Far too much has been crammed into these 150 minutes, and rarely does it amount to anything.