Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
Runtime: 146 Minutes
One thing to be said about Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is that it’s bold. For a major studio to release a modern gothic horror picture of this calibre is a rare experience, and to see a filmmaker such as Verbinski back on track after the failure of The Lone Ranger is a pleasure. Though this is a more restrained picture than much of his recent filmography, the filmmaking is loud and unsubtle about its ways, with an intention to gross out and shake up the audience as much as possible.
The greatest success lies in its remarkable aesthetic; this is unquestionably one of the best-looking films of the year. The general design, Bojan Bazelli's cinematography and Verbinski’s eye for striking framing and composition make this an impeccable and immaculate visual journey. Filled with muted colours and hazy greens, the film looks as sickly and ill as the mindsets of its characters. From the landscape shots of the Swizz Alps to the haunting tiled corridors of the wellness centre, the film feels salient and operatic – carrying an excellent pace through its sharp editing that makes the extended runtime flyby.
As far as the story is concerned, the screenplay is unremarkable in its elemental details and construction. The mystery of the centre, its patients and those who run it sometimes feels like a combination of elements from exterior sources, even if the dramatic beats that it does hit are done so with style and make sense within the world of the film. Its more interesting contemplations on the idea of what it means to be truly ‘well’ in a world of such moral rot are thoughtful, with the 'real' world operating on similarly discomforting grounds of hallowed skyscrapers and boardrooms, as the centre's steam rooms and offices. Although the film would much rather indulge in its more harebrained components.
What is really admirable about the film is how thoroughly it commits to its own premise and story threads once all is revealed by the second act, and moves towards a dedicated and completely sensational final movement of sickening, maddening ridiculousness that will absolutely divide many audience members. The images and concepts at play here are properly grotesque and the film pulls few punches in regard to its physical and emotional brutalities.
Dane DeHaan manages to carry his rather thankless protagonist role well as the enigmatically named Lockhart, and his endurance through some of the more distinctive horror elements leave him an adequate if the plain figure for our own projections. This is very much his story of personal growth as someone coming to terms with the person he has become. Jason Isaacs is delightfully nasty and insidious as the centre’s director, but Mia Goth is the understated standout as the broken and vulnerable patient under the director’s grasp.
A Cure for Wellness is skin-crawling fun, but while it sticks the landing it's also a heavily flawed Frankenstein's Monster of a movie of divergent influences and story elements. But it’s very much Verbinski’s project; this is his playground of dirty pleasures where he relishes the opportunity to take viewers on a ride of strange inspiration, and where the darkness of the real world is just as ethically backward as the fantasies of the wellness centre.