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A Cure for Wellness (Movie Review)

A Cure for Wellness (Movie Review)
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A Cure for Wellness Dane DeHaan Mia Goth Gore Verbinski review

NOTE: This review originally ran in February, when A CURE FOR WELLNESS first hit theaters. The film arrives on Blu-ray/DVD June 6th and can be ordered HERE. Don't miss it!

PLOT: A callous junior executive is sent by his bosses to retrieve the CEO of his company, who has apparently gone mad at a luxurious resort in the Swiss Alps. Once he arrives, however, the young man finds locating his boss - and leaving the place in general - will not be so easily accomplished.

REVIEW: When so many studio horror releases include dreck like Resident Evil The Final Chapter, Rings and so forth, it's wholly surprising to find an item like A CURE FOR WELLNESS on the table. Bizarre and disorienting, with morbid themes that I dare not even reveal here, Gore Verbinski's film is filled to the brim with eerie atmosphere and jarring sights. It's also just flat-out weird; I must have worn the expression of a delirious madman during the movie's batshit-crazy finale. I don't know who at 20th Century Fox thought greenlighting this crazed picture was a good idea, but give them a hand, because we haven't seen a mainstream horror film this gonzo in years.

A Cure for Wellness Dane DeHaan Mia Goth Gore Verbinski review

It probably won't be a hit; it has too many slow parts, its focus is on disquieting you rather than jump-scaring you to death, the slowly unfolding plot doesn't cater to antsy people. Most of what works about the film is the mood it creates and nightmarish world it takes place in, so if you're looking for a traditional picture with easily digestible twists, look elsewhere. A CURE FOR WELLNESS is like a fever dream, with a character who always seems one step away from shaking out of it, only to find himself plunged right back within its moist grasp.

The aforementioned character is Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a slick rising star at a major financial firm in New York City. The company's CEO has evidently lost his mind and decided to stay at the Swiss retreat where he's been vacationing permanently, and so the company's stern elders dispatch Lockhart to retrieve him. Lockhart accepts the job grudgingly - he's just been caught in a costly lie by his bosses and really can't refuse - and takes what he thinks will be a swift trip to the Alps, where the massive resort sits in isolation.

To call it a resort, or even a spa, is a bit misleading. It's actually a former sanitarium, one that owns a rich, macabre history filled with experiments, taboo relationships and graphic murder. I won't ruin the fun specifics, I'll only say that they'd be at home in any number of Vincent Price movies from the 60s. In any event, it's the kind of place that would fill any rational person with immediate dread, particularly because many of the patients and doctors are so clearly putting up a veneer. (Everyone is so polite, everyone smiles in a way that suggests they don't really want to be smiling.) Lockhart finds that absconding with his former boss will not an easy task, since - wait for it - nobody ever wants to leave the idyllic locale. Naturally, he finds himself sucked into this haunting puzzle and attempts to find out what everyone is really up to in this faux paradise.

A Cure for Wellness Dane DeHaan Mia Goth Gore Verbinski review

Even though the specifics of the plot aren't integral to enjoying the movie, there's very little I want to spoil about A CURE FOR WELLNESS, since the unsettling tale Lockhart becomes immersed in is so hypnotic. Indeed, the character is mostly interesting because of the travails he must endure. On paper, Lockhart is a rather unlikable anti-hero: humorless, snide, crafty, teeming with unwanted guilt over the recent death of his mother and the long-ago suicide of his father (a defining moment for the character). But the deeper down the rabbit hole, so to speak, Lockhart goes, the more his arrogant disposition gives way to confusion and fear, and we finally come to sympathize with him as his sanity begins slipping away. DeHaan, with a face that is somehow both boyish and reptilian, is perfectly cast, since he can sell Lockhart's nasty intensity as well as his profound uneasiness. It's a great showcase for the actor.

The look of A CURE FOR WELLNESS is sterile, gothic, and menacing, and that isn't limited to the excellent art direction. Verbinski has cast this movie in such an unglamorous way, it's enthralling to behold. The entire ensemble is packed with craggy, unfriendly faces. Verbinski ensures that there are never any Hollywood beauties waiting to comfort us with their genial good looks. Even the female protagonist, Hannah, is given a distinctively ghostly complexion. She's played by Mia Goth, who flits and hovers around the resort, a waif with unknown purpose who ends up being Lockhart's only ally. Then there's Dr. Volmer, the head of the facility played with sweet-natured malevolence by Jason Isaacs. Isaacs, of course, can play malevolence in his sleep, and his very casting is another testament to Verbinski's insistence that the film's main strength is its chilling atmosphere. Of course there's something sinister about Dr. Volmer, there's never any attempt to even hide it, but because we're trapped in the confines of the spa for good, the barely-masked nature of the man's unhealthy intentions are all the more frightening.

A Cure for Wellness Dane DeHaan Mia Goth Gore Verbinski review

The true nature of the resort, what it's real purpose is, will come as a shock to no one; it's really rather easy to predict about 30 minutes in. (Safe to say that the script, by Justin Haythe, is the movie's weakest aspect.) But Verbinski has such ghoulish imagery to show us, some of it so massively perverse that I couldn't believe it, and there is at least one sequence that will have every person in the theater covering their eyes and/or attempting to hold down their lunch. Frequently, we're unsure - as is Lockhart - if what we're seeing is real, dream, hallucination or just pure blasphemy. A CURE FOR WELLNESS, at the end of the day, never makes a ton of sense, but I embrace that. It's only fitting that a movie taking place in a sanitarium makes you feel like you're in one.

A lot of people - most people - will complain A CURE FOR WELLNESS is too long. At 146 minutes, this is a hard point to argue. It has at least one false ending too many and there's a sojourn into the neighboring town that could have been cut out completely. Plenty of sequences exist just to pad out the sinister atmosphere. But I was never bored, and I'm willing to accept that a movie with such a potent vision runs just a little longer than it should. By the time it was over, I had images of Vincent Price, Hammer Horror, Amicus, Val Lewton, David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick dancing in my head. Vivid horror movies that pride themselves on intoxicating imagery and skin-crawling ideas have always been my thing, and A CURE FOR WELLNESS fits in nicely with those brazen pictures of old.

Extra Tidbit: What do you think of A CURE FOR WELLNESS?

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