A CURE FOR WELLNESS (Dir- Gore Verbinski, USA, 2016)
Starring- Dane DeHaan, Jason Issacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener
A CURE FOR WELLNESS arrives with a decent publicity campaign, a trailer espousing its glossy often hallucinating visuals and interesting psychological horror and a chance for a leading man role for Dane DeHaan. With a $40 million budget behind its no surprise that the studios will be wanting the film to score big at the box office yet at the same time with the subject matter at hand and it’s genre credentials can the film summon the appetite for an audience willing to go along with the mystery especially when they see the running time of almost 2 ½ hours, which even for genre films is a lengthy prospect.
The story focuses on Lockhart (DeHaan) an arrogant young executive who has just been promoted into a new position. However his first job that he is pretty much forced to take, since the executive members of the board know about some financial wrong doings he has committed to get to where he is, is to go to a luxury health spa in Switzerland to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who has written a letter to the board that suggests he has turned his back on the cut throat nastiness of his profession and rather wants to remain at getting better and proclaim his intentions of not returning. Pembroke has gone all Colonel Kurtz and Lockhart on arrival gets no easy answers and whilst on his way from the institute he is involved in a car crash he wakes up with a plaster cast on his leg and back at the “wellness centre” run by Dr Volmer (Issacs). Whilst at first the centre seems seemingly straightforward and lavishly set out and while Lockhart starts to undergo the centres procedures of the “treatment” that the rich clientele pay good money for, its not long before he and ourselves begin to see odd cracks and sinister goings on occurring that hide an altogether darker form of rejuvenation. Not at least is the presence of mysterious young girl, Hannah (Goth) who may have a more prominent link to the spa.
First of all the impressive production value of A CURE FOR WELLNESS shines throughout, with Verbinski and his cinematographer Bojan Bazelli making full use of the buildings historical ambience and its lush setting within the Swiss Alps, with fantastic wide shots of the stunning vista. As well as the impressive production design the film benefits from its 1:85 widescreen frame which emphasises the claustrophobia of the institute and closing in of Lockhart’s consistent sleuthing and sneaking around into the unauthorised areas of the building adding a creepy aesthetic to the films structure and also unveiling what’s hidden in the vaults that contrasts the grand opulence and beauty of the upstairs where the patients are pampered and cared for and offered decadent food for dinner. Verbinski confidently manages to use the building to build up the sense of dread and paranoia that will eventually unleash itself on our central character. As Lockhart, DeHann engages enough credibility into his leading man role and surprisingly looks pretty unwell to begin with and therefore maybe an impromptu stay at the spa might be good for him. Though for me its Issacs as the sinister Volmer who pulls off the best role in the film, both having fun with his Doctor role/torturer and eventually becoming the films villain in remarkable if slightly unconvincing ways.
Goth also remains a mysterious presence as Hannah whose innocence and turn into womanhood becomes a significant factor in the final part. Though as much as production values and decent entertaining performances are its saving graces, the film lacks strong pacing throughout, and as mentioned before, running in at 146 minutes this does over run and could do with at least 30 minutes taken out. This lengthy running time also causes unconvincing actions in the characters and plot devices that surely would be followed through in another film such as Lockhart noticing a hospital assistant pushing a stretcher with what looks like a corpse on it covered by a blanket being pushed into one of the only remaining buildings from when the spa was originally a castle and rather than act on this our main protagonist doesn’t end getting to this section of the building until at least an hour later. The factor of predictability also kicks in towards the films final third which will make its audience, if they’re wise enough, realise where the film is heading towards and whilst the atmosphere remains a strong factor in the film there are few scares throughout and where the film does benefit from in a wearing its genre credentials on its sleeve is in certain nasty and icky scenes of torture involving eels and one which involves a nasty use of a dentist drill which will have you wincing in your seat.
Part of me probably feels that rather than being a feature A CURE FOR WELLNESS might have worked better as a one off mini series for television or even a one off 8 part series such as the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE which itself had a lot of cinematic quality. This would allow the story to generate more interest, develop the back story and expand on further supporting characters. As a feature overall, whilst displaying a grandiose quality and some superb cinematography and production design, A CURE FOR WELLNESS seems to be stretching its length out to the point that it crams in plenty of back story and certain scenes that hamper the films pace and could have been cut out which would not have affected the overall tone of the finished product.