In A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski offers an exclusive spa-break for one. And much like any holiday where you find yourself isolated, bored and without any WiFi, you’ll wish you’d packed your bags to leave sooner.
Dane DeHaan is perfectly cast as Lockhart, a prickish financial services executive tasked to drag the firm’s CEO back to New York from a Swiss sanitarium he refuses to leave. Lockhart’s errant boss has been enjoying the wellness centre’s facilities rather too much. He’s far more interested in saunas, hydrotherapy and mysterious transfusion sessions than signing off on multi-billion dollar mergers. Fair enough, but in the world of financial services, this commitment to self-care just won’t stand.
DeHaan already looks like he needs a few early nights and an extra portion of veg, so you’re fully prepared for this to be more than a fleeting visit. And sure enough, a car accident forces the already exasperated executive to convalesce at the sanitarium with a broken leg and undergo a range of experimental treatments at the hands of Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs).
And herein lies the mystery of A Cure for Wellness – there are disturbing secrets deep within the waters of the wellness centre, which Lockhart feels compelled to solve despite his own fragile psychosis and eel-filled hallucinations. There are lots of eels by the way. It’s a common motif and much of the film’s lauded weirdness relies on the sudden appearance of these slithery fuckers. It’s just a shame its logic is equally hard to grasp.
As Lockhart slowly makes his way through the endless corridors of the sanitarium, trying to solve a puzzle that’s been forced upon him, you can sympathise with his frustration. Lockhart is given just enough tantalising clues to keep him hobbling along on his crutches, but unfortunately this also mirrors the leaden pace of the movie.
Any interest we possibly had is eroded through boredom, mainly brought about by colourless dialogue, Mariana Trench-wide plot holes and predictable twists. This is compounded by the fact that Lockhart is fairly unlikable and ultimately if Lockhart succeeds then it only benefits an already successful financial services firm.
In visual terms, Gore Verbinksi returns to the feculent well of his Ring remake. Lockhart seems to be living in the non-sequitur filled world of the cursed video – although here it’s more slick than scary. One scene in which the link is most literal, finds Lockhart suspended in a tower-like isolation tank with a circle of light reflecting on the water. Lockhart nearly drowns, surrounded by the black hair-like strands of a bed of eels because the attendee monitoring his vital signs is too busy having a wank. It’s one of the film’s more interesting moments. It’s also clear that Verbinski is more interested in creating something visually stimulating rather than coherently satisfying.
Maria Goth, who plays Hannah (the only other resident under the age of 70), is a merciful saving grace. Her other-worldly Shelly Duvall-ness makes for the film’s more captivating moments and deflects away from the unimaginative dialogue. However it’s just pure exploitation that she has to spend a great deal of time topless and tied to a bed. In a film filled with shocking scenes (a dentist-chair torture does not shy away from an unwatchable procedure) this is the most distasteful.
For all its perceived oddness, A Cure for Wellness is disappointingly formulaic and boring. It’s a shame, as a high budget horror filled with interesting auteurist touches is something that should be championed as a remedy for the blandness of big studio genre films. Sadly this is nothing more than a placebo. 2/5
For a much more satisfying big-budget thrill-ride, check out our review of Logan.