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A CURE FOR WELLNESS: Beautiful Cinematography, Predictable Story, Bloated Runtime

A Cure For Wellness
Screenplay by Jusin Haythe
Story by Justin Haythe & Gore Verbinski
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Gore Verbinski, David Crockett

Directed by Gore Verbinski

[images courtesy Mammoth Advertising]

Unfortunately, A Cure for Wellness didn’t do much to cure my boredom. This latest attempt at a parable on our toxic modern lives from Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Ring) turns out to be all beauty and not much substance. For all its moody, muted tones and Gothic ambiance, at 146 minutes, the film is far too long to support the flimsy, unsatisfying narrative.

Our protagonist is a ruthless and power-hungry stockbroker named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan – Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) who is blackmailed by his equally ruthless and power-hungry executive board to travel to a wellness center in a remote part of the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener – About Schmidt, Road to Perdition) and bring him back to New York so that he can sign the necessary legal papers to finalize their pending merger. When Lockhart arrives at the Gothic castle that houses the sanatorium, he finds that Pembroke has no intention of leaving; in fact, none of the guests do. However, this turns out to be the least of Lockhart’s problems, after a grisly car accident leaves him with a broken leg and consequently checked in as a patient of the creepy head doctor, Volmer (Jason Issacs – The OA, the Harry Potter franchise). In his attempts to uncover the true intentions of Dr. Volmer, he must submit himself to the mysterious “treatments” which leave Lockhart wondering if he is truly sick or if he has uncovered something deeply sinister.

At least, that’s what the movie hopes you will think. It starts out strong (kudos to Verbinski for making a heart attack just as terrifying as a demon girl crawling out of a TV), but the movie never really achieves its mindbending aim. It fundamentally fails on its basic premise, in that there is never any real doubt cast on the nefarious doctor and his so-called healing center. I never questioned the nature of Lockhart’s reality, because, save one scene involving disappearing doors and a stag casually walking through a steam room (an incredibly epic technical feat), I did not question for a moment that every weird thing that happened was in fact weird, evil, and very off. This is mostly due to the fact that the film provides us way too much information up front. So much so, that the “big twist” at the end is relatively obvious before we are past the first 30 minutes of the movie. Being a little ahead of your protagonist can serve well to add tension in a horror film, but when you’re ahead for an entire two hours it loses its fun. I mean, maybe it’s just me, but if there are eels on the freakin’ front gates of the creepy Gothic castle, I’m pretty sure any eels I see are definitely real, and anyone who says otherwise is messing with me.

The narrative also suffers from obvious plot holes and characters’ inexplicable lapses in judgement paired with overall disregard for self-preservation. Not only must we believe that Lockhart would choose to return to the center twice after escaping for the sake of pure curiosity, but we must also believe that he would never try to fully escape thereafter when all he had to do was hobble a mile or two downhill on his crutches? Wouldn’t a character that is presented as so vehemently self-absorbed and opportunistic save himself the first chance he got? The proposed obstacles of unfriendly villagers and a full leg cast seem flimsy against the threat of gruesome bodily harm and possible death. In the end, the film goes from a toddling 5 mph to 50 mph out of nowhere. It starts to feel like a cheesy action movie, and the final reveal gives more of a “WTF?” feeling than an “OMG!” one. In the end, a too enthusiastically executed attempted rape scene, overly dramatic banter, and some really terrible CGI, leave you scratching your head wondering what exactly this was all for.

Still, DeHaan does an excellent job carrying this behemoth of a movie. He is reminiscent of a younger, steelier Leo DiCaprio, an obvious homage to Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and never lacks in intensity for a moment. He does all the heavy lifting in this film, and though some have pointed to Lockhart being incredibly unlikable, I felt DeHaan did a lot to bring out the little humanity the character still possessed. Jason Issacs has made a career playing the buttoned up creeper, and he does not disappoint either. Mia Goth (Nymphomaniac Vol. II), who plays Hannah, the mysterious young girl Lockhart sees as his key to the center’s puzzle, is perfectly cast in this role, somehow strangely able to seem 14 and 40 at the same time.

Despite its dramatic shortcomings, the film is truly a feast for the eyes. Verbinski, reunited with The Ring cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, prove once again to be quite the cinematographic dream team. The dreamy color palette mixed with the Gothic setting are constantly breathtaking, rivaling the equally ambitious Crimson Peak, and the elaborate sets are moved through with such deft technical skill, I found myself in awe of the film’s beauty many times. Every shot is meticulously gorgeous, so perfectly atmospheric, that you surprise yourself a little when you start to get bored with its beauty once the two hour mark rolls around. As one of the longest horror films ever released in theaters, A Cure For Wellness could have benefited from serious whittling down, but by the end it’s very clear that this film is more for Verbinski than for any of us.

Overall, if you want to see an incredibly beautiful looking movie with some vintage horror influences and excellent sound design – check it out. If you want to see a truly scary flick, save yourself the $17 dollars and the two and a half hours and cross your fingers for next weekend’s release Get Out.

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