Image Credit: 20th Century Fox
Many people are sick in “A Cure For Wellness,” Gore Verbinski’s shock-till-you-drop homage to the earlier days of Vincent Price; a gothic thriller set in the gorgeous landscape of the Swiss Alps. The film follows a hotshot young and hungry wiz kid named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), on his quest to track down the last known whereabouts of one his bosses, a so-called “Wellness” center in the heart of Switzerland. It’s a test given to him by a shady cooperate firm, and he is eager to meet their requirements.
As a cross between “Shutter Island” and “House On Haunted Hill,” save for the fact that DeHaan is a young DiCaprio, “Wellness” best features is the location and production design, with Verbinski doing his best ode in helping audiences forget about his box office disaster “The Lone Ranger.” Once Lockhart arrives at the isolated fortress, every creepy miscue begins to unfold meticulously. Whether it’s the grimace on the face of the nurse at the front desk, or the patients themselves who hardly show any emotions. Is this place he traveled to a wellness clinic or a sanitorium? What is this cobalt blue vile of “vitamins” the doctors are always using? And what is this obsession with water? Don’t worry all those get answered in due time,
This is supposed to be a short trip, a smash-and-grab job of herding his boss back into a limo and hauling him home in time for a huge merger within the company, but what Lockhart doesn’t know is that nobody ever leaves the Volmer institute. When he tries to head back down the mountain, a car accident finds him becoming the clinic’s newest patient; what ensues next includes a horror maestro lineup of classic “cover your eyes moments” - among them include, incest, gaslighting, enough weird nurses to make Stephen King blush, one of the most cringeworthy displays of dentistry, and eels….lots, and lots of eels.
At first Justin Haythe’s screenplay borders on the idea that Americans are literally working themselves to death and willing to thwart reality in order to avoid confronting their own consequences. An opening prologue in the beginning tries to present that question. Verbinski knows that, we as a society, are sick but that we may be in denial of the diagnosis. As Lockhart begins to explore the vast landscape of this, and let’s just call it what is, asylum, he begins to unravel the deepest secrets hidden within. By far the meatiest role in the movie belongs to Jason Isaacs playing the slippery Dr. Volmer himself, the man who runs the facilities, but the real starlet and biggest mystery the movie plays with is a girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) a pale young woman who’s spent her entire life at the “spa resort” - all of this feeds into the uneasy feeling that fills the color palette throughout, and the overall notion that people would rather invent an illness than find a cure for their condition.
Running a staggering 146 minutes, is where “Wellness” falls overboard, when a shorter, more precise trip would have done just fine. I enjoyed the overall tone which Verbinski knows better than anyone, see “The Ring,” but his loose ends and convoluted way of detailing a story is one that comes at the expense of mainstream audiences. The entire third act is wrapped in scrutiny, and you may wish to have a moviegoing companion with you, as to bounce ideas of what the hell is actually happening. I’m still left a tad bogged down by the weight of everything being thrown at me, and the ending mirrors classics like “The Phantom of The Opera.” To which I suspect that many analyst might theorize the ending, and perhaps one day “Wellness” will find a cult following on Netflix. As it should, this isn’t a bad movie, in fact, I’m almost amazed this got the greenlight by a major studio without any star power attached.
DeHaan and Isaac breeze through the material with a wacky and rat-tat-tat attitude, that make the ride worth the gamble. And If you find yourself confused by the many tiring plotholes, I suggest putting yourself in Verbinski’s shoes and use a method that makes the most sense when dissecting what you just watched, imagination. Also, whatever you do, please don’t drink the water. B