A Cure For Wellness (2016) Review

rsz_cfw1A 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.

rsz_cfw3First 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.

rsz_cfw4Goth 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.

rsz_cfw2Part 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.

6/10

Devil’s Knot (2013) Cinematic Review

devilsknot1Devil’s Knot (2013) Cinematic Review
114 mins

Dir: Atom Egoyan

Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, Stephen Moyer, Mireille Enos and James Hamrick

In the summer of 1993, three 8 year old boys went to play in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas and never returned. When their bodies were discovered, the brutality of their deaths was linked by authorities to be as some part of a Satanic ritual. Soon afterwards, three teenagers were arrested and put on trial founded on intense interrogation and highly circumstantial evidence as a result of the ‘Satanic Panic’ that was running amuck in the American Mid-West. The boys all faced extreme charges, the penalties of which included life imprisonment and condemnation to death.

Based on the book of the same name by Mara Leveritt, it is surprising that it has taken such a long time for a theatrical retelling of the chilling and blood-boiling events that surrounded the West Memphis Three. Whilst some may feel that it could be considered to still be ‘too soon’, the far more likely reason is the existence of the immaculate ‘Paradise Lost’ trilogy of documentaries.

At a combined total of nearly 10 hours, it is no surprise that Atom Egoyan felt that the story needed to be kept to a more mainstream running time but this only proves to be one of the film’s key detriments. It was interesting that in the film, Firth has a brief dialogue with a documentary filmmaker, presumably supposed to be Joe Berlinger. I’m sure this was intended to be a wry nod of acknowledgement from Egoyan to what came before him, but sadly only served as another reminder of how better this story had already been captured.

devilsknot2The most noteworthy element of the film is that it was surprisingly enjoyable and refreshing to see Colin Firth not just playing the same bloody character he’s done for seemingly his entire career aka stuffy but secretly hopeless romantic upper-class Brit. Adopting a convincing southern drawl, Firth plays investigator, Ron Lax, one of the very first people to dare to raise a contrary voice to the overwhelming majority belief of the guilt of the three boys. Whilst he is stereotyped with the saddle of being an alcoholic, Firth displays a huge amount of conviction in his character and expertly represents the outrage and indignation many felt at the hideously one-sided case against the WM3.

The three boys themselves, whilst irritatingly not given enough screen time, also provide an almost scary degree of accuracy in their portrayals. James Hamrick as Damien Echols is especially brilliant and crucially, the sole occasion in which the film gets its handling of the story completely spot on. Hamrick’s performance is a perfect medium of both intimidatingly suspect and yet at the same time, vulnerable. Beneath his veneer of being cold and aggressive, we see how much he fears for his mortality and his despair that seemingly no one will believe in his innocence.

It is a shame, however, that both DeHaan and Witherspoon who are both usually so reliable, are very much on auto-pilot here. As the mother of one of the murdered boys, Witherspoon does track the emotional journey the real life Pam Hobbs underwent of initially cursing the accused to being the first to start to believe in their innocence superbly. The problem is, however, that due to Egoyan’s unsettled nature and desire to jump between stories, her performance that could have been packed full of nuance and inner turmoil is muted as a result of the reduced screen time.

DeHaan fares far worse, on the evidence such as this, it is clear that he’s getting all too dangerously close to being stereotyped as ‘the creepy guy’. Don’t get me wrong, he is amazing at what he does, but his almost pantomime villain performance here threatens to tip the film off the rails and into yet further mediocrity.

devilsknot3The recreations of the 90s is faithfully captured through the now humourlessly chunky mobile phones and of course, dress sense but very little effort is made to get a real sense of the community at the time. What caused the almost witch-hunt of the three accused boys was the tightly bound community bonded together by their faith and almost uniform identity of polite small town America. The fact that the accused were the total antithesis to this fuelled the flames of the town’s paranoia and, arguably, the police’s personal prejudices. Egoyan’s limited focus in his three storylines skimps on the Satanic Panic that was sweeping America at the time and as a result, leaves the film feeling a tad limp and without much context.

Admittedly, those who have read a lot into the case or watched the documentaries bring heightened levels of expectation that a theatrical feature, primarily designed to entertain, could never hope to fully satisfy. So does it work on a cinematic level? Well no, the film rushes through interesting and well captured moments, such as the child whose recorded statement was proven to be completely manipulated and then slows down to an excruciating snail’s pace when dealing with Rox Lax’s divorce.

The film’s main stumbling block is its sheer reluctance to really get its hands dirty and expose the truly horrifying nature of the case and the highly dubious actions of the police and justice system. Scenes of a potentially troubling nature are handled with the delicate care of the ‘Hallmark’ channel and it is only come the end of the film with its fact cards that any real feathers are properly rustled, the audience I was in shaking their heads in disbelief at the all too true farcical actions of the police force after the events of the film had concluded. It is of course difficult to render dramatic tension when we already know the outcome but if a film like David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ can make it look so effortless and resurrect the genuine horror behind a real life case, then such an excuse simply doesn’t hold much water.

devilsknot4‘The Devil’s Knot’ could have been made far stronger if it had simply stuck to one of its three storylines and told that version of ‘what happened’. In attempting to cover all the ground, Egoyan has spread himself far too thin. As a result of trying to focus on all the key footnotes, the director lost out on creating any real intrigue, tension or even and perhaps most crucially, any sense of anger at the injustice the boys suffered. Perhaps, stories as shocking and confounding as this can only be properly expressed through the documentary medium. Real life can be infinitely more terrifying and aggravating than any piece of fiction.

Verdict: A heavily sedated trundle through an incendiary story, only held afloat by the solid performances. 5/10

Metallica: Through The Never (2013) BluRay Review

met1METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER – 2013

DIR: Nimrod Antal

STARRING: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammet, Robert Trujillo, Dane DeHaan

Blu – Ray

Out Now

 

No one can ever accuse Metallica of resting on their laurels. Their output over the last twenty plus years may have been erratic, but they have always pushed their own boundaries and defied expectation. So the announcement that they were making a feature film didn’t surprise me as much as it might have. With Through the Never they attempt to give the traditional concert film a new spin by adding a narrative to proceedings and framing the show as part of a wider story arc. It’s a brilliant idea in theory and offers scope for something truly exciting. At its best Metallica’s music is heavy, and thoroughly cinematic, so partnered with the right story this could truly have been something epic. However, in practice it is a bit of a mixed bag, not quite materialising as the cinematic fusion the band had probably hoped for.

Through the Never is the story of Trip; a young fan boy roadie who finds himself sent on an errand to collect something that the band need. He takes a strange pill and sets off on his journey. He soon finds himself at the centre of a riot and becomes embroiled in a surreal dystopian nightmare. In order to get back to the show he must face his fears and fight his way back through the violence. All the time this is happening Metallica perform a set of epic proportions; some of the events on stage mirroring Trips journey through the city.

It’s a great set up for something exciting and the early moments show some promise. As Metallica take to the stage it is immediately apparent that this isn’t a traditional concert film. Having a feature film maker’s eye and a feature film budget mean that the camera is allowed to go places it can’t normally go, so the concert footage is absolutely superb. Metallica have spared no expense on the stage show either which goes beyond spectacular.

met2 It moves smoothly into the story to start with as the camera swoops up through the crowd finding Trip shouting passionately along to ‘Creeping Death’. But once he leaves the arena the movie’s shortcomings become apparent. The problem is quite a simple one: Trip’s story isn’t particularly interesting and adds very little to proceedings. During the making of documentary one of the producers is adamant that this is not a concert film. She insists it is a narrative film with concert elements. She’s wrong; very wrong. Through the Never’s fundamental flaw is that it is a concert film with narrative elements meaning that the ‘story’ distracts from what is a truly amazing Metallica show.

But that isn’t to say it is a total failure. Whilst the story itself isn’t particularly engaging there are some nice visual flourishes. At around the half-way point the music and the movie start to sync up quite nicely and there are some cool moments as Trip sinks deeper and deeper into trouble. Metallica fans will love the way it matches up the now famous ‘Enter Sandman’ stage collapse with Trip’s actions outside the venue. Dane DeHaan (from the great Chronicle) deserves some credit as well. He manages to give Trip more personality than the script does and, in what is essentially a silent role, gives it an emotional centre that stops it from being totally pointless. Ultimately, the intentions here are noble, and there is a lot for fans to enjoy. There are sly nods to Metallica’s history peppered throughout and it is clear that director Nimrod Antal (Predators) knows and loves Metallica. As a story it wants to play as a tribute to the lengths fans will go to be a part of the Metallica experience, and Metallica clearly want it to be a bit of a love letter to their fans. But it isn’t quite brave enough to go the whole distance and is a little afraid of its own ambition.

The disc itself is a must buy for fans. You get the Blu-Ray and the 3D Blu-Ray in one for a decent price. Not being much of a fan of 3D I have only watched the 2D version but can honestly say I don’t think 3D would change the experience at all. The image quality is absolutely top drawer, and is one of the nicest looking Blu-Rays I have ever seen. As for special features, there are interviews and festival panel videos as well as trailers and ‘Master of Puppets’ uninterrupted as a live music video. But by far the best reason to buy this is a making of documentary that, in true Metallica style, doesn’t pull any punches.

met3Anyone who has seen the ‘Some Kind of Monster’ documentary will be aware of how candid Metallica can be, and this making of goes beyond the usual overblown sales pitch. Metallica allow every part of the process a look in, and it is particularly interesting to see producers argue over the budget. Financially Metallica have made a loss on this as it died a quick death at the box office, and it is fascinating to see how everything unfolded in the films pre-production, especially when the band are constantly pushing for bigger and crazier things. What is a shame is that there is no option to watch the concert without the film elements, especially as the shows were longer than the film would allow.

In the end Metallica fans are going to want this. It’s a good package and is a genuine curiosity for those that love the band. Whether or not you feel Metallica are being overly self- indulgent, or that they are just trying to push the envelope a little more this is something a bit different for the committed fan.

FILM 7/10

EXTRAS 8/10