Review: A Cure for Wellness
PLOT: A crooked young executive (Dane DeHaan) is sent to a remote clinic in the Swiss Alps to recover his company’s CEO. When there, he discovers the residents either can’t or won’t leave, with the clinic’s deadly secret being tied to a centuries old mystery.
REVIEW: Gore Verbinski’s A CURE FOR WELLNESS is nothing if not ambitious. His long-awaited return to horror, a genre he hasn’t dabbled in since 2002’s THE RING, Verbinski’s made a defiantly bold film, albeit one that suffers under the weight of its own ambitions and a clumsy mystery. Yet, this can be forgiven, as individual sequences are so dazzling, in the end the fact that it’s uneven and bloated (at an indulgent 146 minutes) can be forgiven.
One thing that’s immediately apparent as one of the film’s strengths is Verbinski’s choice of setting, with the spooky Hohenzollern Castle standing-in for the Swiss clinic. The picturesque setting is captured by his usual DP, Bojan Bazelli, in an unusually flat 1:85:1 (although it looked closer to 1:66:1) aspect ratio for the usually big-budget helmer. It’s lavish for a piece of genre cinema, being one of the few studio horror films in recent memory not to be micro-budget, and shot like a legitimate film.
Despite the sumptuous visuals and evocative score by Benjamin Wallfisch, there are some issues with the film that are immediately apparent. For one thing, the dialogue in the opening scenes, in an attempt to be shocking, is stiff and Dane DeHaan, playing a smarmy company man, isn’t a personable hero at all – although it seems he’s not meant to be. The mystery, which revolves around the clinic’s apparently healing waters, is convoluted, involving a deceased aristocrat and his sister bride, and the premise is a rough one to hang a nearly two and a half hour movie on. Back in the seventies, Hammer could have done the same thing in ninety minutes – flat.
Even still, the dull plot proves to be beside the point, with A CURE FOR WELLNESS being a must-see for some of the staggering individual set-pieces. Moments such as when DeHaan finds himself submerged in an isolation chamber full of sea snakes or the creepiest dentist visit since MARATHON MAN – a moment that’s not for the squeamish– are worth the price of a ticket alone. Verbinski also gets lots of mileage out of his R-rating, but keeps from going too overboard, saving the gore for shock moments, such as a memorable one that pays tribute to HOUSE OF WAX.
The supporting cast, while low-key, is also strong, with Jason Isaacs at his best as the clinic’s head doctor, whose sophisticated demeanor is a huge red-herring (Christopher Lee would have played him in the Hammer version, Vincent Price in the Roger Corman one). Mia Goth also adds a usual presence to the film, as a waifish girl with the mind of a child who’s awakened by the young visitor. A sequence where she dances provocatively at a bar is especially memorable.
So, even if A CURE FOR WELLNESS tells a B-movie story dressed up in an A-level prestige production, it can be forgiven for how dynamic it is in bits and pieces. Verbinski, despite laying-off horror since THE RING, hasn’t lost his flair for the genre, although next time here’s hoping the premise is able to sustain his ambitions a little better.
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