Gore Verbinski and Justin Haythe serve up an ambitious but flawed nod to 70s horror with A Cure For Wellness. Dane DeHaan leads the charge in A Cure for Wellness, starring as Lockhart, an ambitious-to-fault Wall Street executive who’s dispatched to the Swiss Alps to pluck his company’s CEO out of a reclusive treatment center.
In true paranoia thriller fashion, it becomes evident nearly as soon as Lockhart arrives that not all is as it seems. The Cure, which plays heavily on the water in the region strikes him as hogwash, and the doctor in charge of it all is less than cooperative. A Misery-esque car crash later he finds himself on crutches and in the care of the man he so mistrusts, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs). Soon enough, Lockhart begins to peel back the layers of mystery around the place, but he also begins to question his own sanity.
A Cure for Wellness struggles most as a result of the weight of its own mythology. The riddles Lockhart is asked to unravel and simultaneously vast and transparent. Some twists are inspired while others are just confusing. The ultimate effect is a messy film that leaves behind more troubling questions than it answers — and not in the philosophical sense. Still, the nearly two-and-a-half hour trek is captivating for the duration. Whatever else it is, A Cure for Wellness is also gorgeous. The treatment center has all the trappings of a posh escape for the wealthy, including sprawling baths reminiscent of the ancient Roman structures at Bath, England and other such sites. And indeed, this last bit is undoubtedly a nod to the notion of “taking the waters” which is at the core of the Cure in the film.
Of course, all of this beauty gives the darkness in the film a wonderful, terrible contrast. Sweeping scenes of tranquillity punctuated by cringe-worthy torture and “nooooo, he’s not going there,” moments. Some of these reach too far to be impactful, instead inspiring noises of bemusement bordering on incredulity. However, a few of them land brilliantly, earning the perfect mixture of anxiety and cringes.
A Cure for Wellness is a well acted movie, if not a particularly well plotted one. DeHaan stands up to the tall order of featuring in nearly every frame, even though Lockhart is not a sympathetically drawn character. He’s often alone and does some great work with his expressions and mannerisms as the film pushes his character into more and more tenuous situations. Jason Isaacs, meanwhile, manages to shed the iconic Lucious Malfoy brand of sinister for an altogether different kind of slow simmering malice and deceit.
In a time of year when there’s precious little of merit at the box office, A Cure for Wellness stands out for the thought and discussion it provokes, by virtue of both its failings and successes.