Sadly, A Cure for Wellness doesn’t quite deliver on the promise it showed in its terrific trailer. Yes, the movie is visually fascinating at times, but not in ways that we haven’t already seen. It’s a case of its marketing campaign teasing a mystery we want to see, but then not presenting that mystery in a way that builds on it to make a completely satisfying experience. I know it’s not fair to judge a movie by its trailer, but, in this case, because it came out of nowhere, caught us by surprise and looked so compelling, you’re bound to be disappointed in the final product.
It would be easy to say that, at 146 minutes, the movie is too long. Oddly, it’s not. In fact, the way A Cure for Wellness sets up its slow burn and lets it simmer for around two hours, then concludes in its final 30 minutes with a hurry, it’s almost not long enough. It’s like two movies stitched together. One is a dreamy meditation on sanity and reality, the other is sordid Grand Guignol straight out of a 1950s B-movie. I never thought from the first 4/5 of the movie that it was leading to the last 1/5.
There are clues along the way, I suppose, as a young financial services executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), is sent to an exclusive spa in the Swiss Alps to bring back his firm’s rogue CEO. When a car accident turns him into a patient, he meets many strange people and experiences many strange visions, possibly due to the water with supposed medicinal purposes and the “vitamins” that patients drop on their tongue from a small blue vial. These ambiguous scenes are the best in the movie. You never expect the story to end with such a definitive conclusion.
Director Gore Verbinski has given us a mix of hits and misses. I liked The Mexican (2001) solely due to his creativity behind the camera. The Ring (2002) and Rango (2011) reflected his unique style. However, he also made The Weather Man (2005) and The Lone Ranger (2013). (That’s the good and the bad; I’ll let you decide on which side his three Pirates of the Caribbean movies lie.) A Cure for Wellness is advertised as being Verbinski’s vision, but I’m curious about the story. How much came from him and how much from screenwriter Justin Haythe?
Haythe doesn’t have as long a track record, writing only The Clearing (2004), Revolutionary Road (2008) and Snitch (2013) before working with Verbinski on The Lone Ranger. Both are credited for the story of A Cure for Wellness. Did one of them think of the solution for the mystery and then Haythe had to come up with a way to get there? Or, did one of them think of the mystery and Haythe wrote himself into a corner, having to come up with a quick way to tie everything together and then retroactively sprinkling a few hints behind?
The key to this mystery might be found with the mysterious girl who wanders the spa campus barefoot. Played by Mia Goth, Hannah is a ghostly presence. She was 23 or 24-years old when the movie was made, but looks so young that a potential relationship with Lockhart feels yucky. That never happens, but it doesn’t mean we won’t eventually feel yucky later in the story when she has a close encounter with the director of the spa, Volmer, played with dark menace by Jason Isaacs.
A Cure for Wellness reminds me an awful lot of Shutter Island (2010), although it is not nearly as confusing. I liked this movie much better, but that’s not necessarily a glowing recommendation. Let there be no doubt, it’s a horror film. The more I think about it, it’s like a long dream that turns into a violent nightmare. It ends suddenly, jarring you awake. The thing about nightmares, though, is that you don’t usually want to have them. You prefer to remain in the hazy part, waking up with a sense of thoughtfulness and wonder.
(Be sure to read Downright Creepy’s exclusive interview with director Gore Verbinski!)