REVIEW – A CURE FOR WELLNESS. With Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Carl Lumbly. Written by Justin Haythe. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated Rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language. 146 minutes.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a gonzo, over-the-top, thriller that slowly morphs into a horror film. Viewers able to buy into this waking nightmare will find themselves amply rewarded; there will be many who think the movie asks too much. Overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours–and with plot holes you could drive a truck through–it nonetheless sucks you in by way of it’s impressive and surreal production design and a story that keeps revealing deeper and deeper layers of madness. One is hard-pressed to think of any American film of recent years that even comes close to this.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is go-getter in financial services who got too cute with some recent transactions. The company principals are less upset at his ruthlessness than that he thought he could get away with it. They give him the opportunity to redeem himself by going to a spa in the Swiss Alps where Pembroke (Harry Groener), the head of the company, has gone for a rest cure and refuses to return. He’s needed to sign off on a merger.
The spa, under the direction of Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is impressive, although the local townies have a love/hate relationship with it. Lockhart is given the runaround and, after a car accident, finds himself stuck as a patient there himself. He locates Pembroke, who refuses to leave, and strikes up a friendship of sorts with Hannah (Mia Goth), an ethereal young woman in whom Volmer takes a special interest.
As the story progresses we learn more and more about the secrets of the spa, and why the wealthy individuals who come for “the cure” are never cured. To cite the most obvious problem with the narrative, even on crutches Lockhart seems to be able to explore secret levels of the facility with surprising ease, invariably being in the right–or wrong–place at the most opportune moment. That’s why this is more like a nightmare than a crisply-written thriller: there’s an internal logic going on that’s all the eerier because, at times, it doesn’t make sense.
DeHaan’s Lockhart is not a likable character, at least at first, more a smug yuppie who deserves a comeuppance. Yet as he becomes more victim than victimizer, he slowly wins us over, making us ever more suspicious of the smooth-talking and utterly practical Volmer. By the time we get to the film’s climax–after a scene where many might think the film is coming to its tragic ending but is really just getting warmed up–all bets are off. Even if you figure out, or think you figure out, where it’s going, you will not expect the operatic showdown which includes fire, water, perversion, and ballroom dancing. By comparison, “Fifty Shades Darker” is a cartoon.
Director Gore Verbinski (whose works include the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and the dreadful remake of “The Lone Ranger”) has created a film that recalls the British horror films of the 1950s and the Italian horror films of the ’60s, and yet is wholly original. (Verbinski developed the story with screenwriter Justin Haythe.) “A Cure for Wellness” could have used some tightening, but the result is unlike anything Hollywood is making these days. For many that will be a relief, so if you’re intrigued, see it sooner rather than later. This deserves to be seen on a big screen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.