Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs Mia Goth
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There is a sickness inside us, proclaims A Cure for Wellness, and by the end of its wriggling, skin-crawling runtime, you might well believe it.
The cure for this sickness? A stay in an exclusive Swiss retreat, where inhabitants can expect to be made well through a mysterious treatment that mostly involves drinking the water and obeying the nurses. Oh, and never leaving again for the rest of their lives. It’s safe to say that there’s something rotten in Switzerland, and A Cure for Wellness doesn’t waste time in making that clear, as the film immediately crafts a creepy atmosphere that lingers all the way to its final moments: from errant deer to strange locals, and a minor eel fetish, the “wellness centre” and everything around it is clearly not quite right.
How do we know? Because we’re seeing everything from the perspective of Lockhart (DeHaan), a young businessman who works hard, wears a suit and doesn’t say no to the mission of bringing back a partner who’s left the firm and is now holed up in said spa. DeHaan is perfectly cast in the lead role: he joins Caleb Landry Jones in the select Hollywood club of actors who look like they’ve just come down with something, and that sickly pallor bounces off the green-tinged walls back at him. His illness, in a way, is ambition and greed, in the form of his fanatical dedication to work – all themes that could make for an intriguing, intelligent psychological thriller. A Cure for Wellness, though, is not that movie. This is a movie full of plot holes and overripe dialogue – and did we mention that eel fetish?
The spa is run by the mysterious Dr. Volmer (hello to Jason Isaacs), who welcomes Lockhart with open arms, and an insincere smile. As well as his patients, he watches over young Hannah (Mia Goth), a “special case” who soon becomes Lockhart’s romantic interest, and new intended rescue target. Isaacs is wonderfully sinister as the senior physician, while Goth is convincingly out-of-it as his damaged, naive ward.
With their trio of performances anchoring the whole thing, director Gore Verbinski is free to build up his vision without a second thought for things such as logic and narrative. And what he comes up with is frequently stunning, as his pristinely designed ward gives way to shadowy corners and ostentatious locked chambers with a theatricality that echoes Del Toro and an eye for horror that channels Cronenberg. But the bonkers imagination is all Verbinski, as the director follows The Lone Ranger with an even more idiosyncratic studio flick – Grand Guignol with the dial turned up to “Plus Grand”.
While there’s enjoyment seeing Verbinski double down on every daft, disturbing revelation, the script by Justin Haythe comes very close to sinking the entire endeavour: desperate to be smart as well as silly, it tries far too hard to outfox viewers with a twist-laden plot that only distracts from the simple B-movie pleasures on offer. It climaxes in a final act that offers answers to every question in a way that comes across as more unsatisfying than surprising – an overwrought but undercooked effort, like a restaurant trying to serve up a roast mammoth when you only asked for cheese and ham omelette.
Led by Isaacs, though, there’s a giddy, manic quality to the affair, which is unabashedly Gothic and genuinely unsettling. You’ll occasionally sigh as we spend 30 minutes too long watching Dane DeHaan’s logical hero frantically trying to make sense of the madness around him, but you’ll sympathise too, and it’s that deliberate clash between reason and irrational nightmare that makes A Cure for Wellness so much fun to watch. Like The Ring, Verbinski’s extravagant return to the horror genre swims its way into your bloodstream and never really leaves.
A Cure for Wellness is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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