So... instead of doing a sequel to his own American remake of THE RING, Gore Verbinski moved on to three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies and THE LONE RANGER. But now he's got a new horror movie out, and THAT's going the way of THE LONE RANGER tout suite, so move fast if you want to see THIS one on the big screen (and you just might). The immediate and overt problem with A CURE FOR WELLNESS is that even though it isn't a 'summer' movie starring Johnny Depp, it STILL goes on for two-and-a-half hours, which is WAY too indulgent for the story at hand. But for all that? It DOES reward the patient viewer when all's said and done.
Young Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, the obnoxious new Goblin in the awful AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2) pulled a bunch of strings he shouldn't have in order to close a major account for an American financial firm. He heads to the corporate floor with visions of sugarplums (and a fat promotion, a corner office, and a set-for-life fat-cat status) dancing in his head... but the newbie actually finds out that he's going to be fed alive to the SEC over his illicit shenanigans--UNLESS he can drag a bigger piece of bait back from Switzerland. It seems that former corporate officer Pembroke abruptly resigned while "taking the cure" at a mysterious Swiss spa--and Lockhart's cronies only have a cryptic letter to go on.
Having no real choice in the matter, Lockhart heads for the resort (located in an isolated, ultra-Gothic baronial estate), figuring he can just waltz in and out and drag Pembroke along with him. Next week on "Things Aren't That Simple?"
After sharing a few angst-ridden flashbacks of his own with the viewer, Lockhart, much to his inconvenience and annoyance, suffers an auto accident and finds himself a patient/prisoner of the clinic. Even worse, the doctor running the spa is Jason Isaacs, and if you saw THE O.A., then you already know how he treats HIS patients. And yes, they DO get immersed in tanks of water, among other things. But Lockhart has no opportunity to learn the Macarena for Isaac's edification and entertainment (yes, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is certainly overlong, but it's not THAT overlong).
Lockhart takes advantage of his unwanted resident status and does more detective work. All he really wants is to find Pembrose and whisk him away, but his inquiries lead him deeper into the unsavory history of the estate, the discovery of its "life-giving" waters, and why nobody ever seems to want to leave. But he has slightly better luck when he attempts to befriend the only patient on the property younger than himself... a troubled young lady by the name of Hannah (Mia Goth). And he finds himself wishing he'd watched the "Eels" episode of THE MIGHTY BOOSH in preparation. (One might also recommend Alan Parker's THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE as a palate-cleanser.)
A CURE FOR WELLNESS (another collaboration between director Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe of THE LONE RANGER, so that explains a lot right there) proves that Verbinski has lost none of his ability to deliver both jump scares and highly disturbing in-your-face imagery (the animal and human suffering alike is simulated, but quite convincingly so), and the story gives the viewer ample pause to consider whether or not Lockhart is dreaming or hallucinating the whole thing--but then makes the mistake of offering unequivocal cutaways to other characters doing things Lockhart can't possibly witness in what is otherwise nearly a first-person tale. Little frustrations like that continue throughout the narrative, and there are entire movements that could have been dropped without having any effect on the story whatsoever (an extended take on the heartbreaking Charles Grodin betrayal from ROSEMARY'S BABY comes to mind, especially as there's no particular reason for any viewer to trust the cop--or anybody ELSE in the film, for that matter).
So what's the reward for spending over two hours in such unsavory surroundings? Glad you asked. Without getting into spoilers, I can tell you something that none of the trailers or advertising did... that A CURE FOR WELLNESS works itself into a most satisfying and full-blooded Grand Guignol straight out of the Hammer thrillers of the 1960s! I kid you NOT... you get a huge dose of KISS OF THE VAMPIRE flavored with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA--and yes, you'll need to see it for yourself if you really want to know what I mean. It's NOT what I was expecting, but I was certainly happy to see it wind up like that--and yes, it did make the entire movie worth sitting through.
Flawed and indulgent even as it's original and ambitious, A CURE FOR WELLNESS deserves a chance on the big screen as long as it's there. Which won't be long.
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