Hot Take: Ambition doesn’t necessarily result in good. I’m talking about both the plot and the movie here… I think.
A Cure for Wellness has an enemy. Itself. This movie has a lot of potential. It has an impressive look and feel. There are a few interesting, oddball characters every gothic horror film needs. Wait… Should I call it gothic horror? I’m not sure. Well, that’s problem number one. I guess that’s the best description of the category A Cure for Wellness can be boxed into.
Calling that problem number one might not be fair, though as it is only number one because it’s mentioned first. The biggest complaint from most that give the movie thumbs down will be in its length. At a run time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, the best, salvageable parts of the film (which might generously add up to 80 minutes) are buried underneath director Gore Verbinski’s garrulous style. It’s a trend he can’t escape. His three Pirates of the Caribbean entries averaged 154 minutes. There was The Mexican early on in his career which overstayed its welcome at 123 minutes and then there was 2013’s The Lone Ranger which tortured viewers with a 2 hour, 29 minute run time. I guess it should be expected but like the shell game car salesmen play with you when buying a new car, it’s never satisfying even when the result is something positive.
The bizarre plot of an ambitious sales executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) with questionable ethics sent to a wellness center in the Swiss alps to retrieve Pembroke, the company’s CEO, (Harry Groener) after an unusual letter was sent from the CEO to his company denouncing the practices of the world he came from and vowing to stay at the wellness center. Upon arrival, he meets the facility’s director and obvious baddie Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and quickly Lockhart realizes there’s something amiss at the center. Once Lockhart convinces Pembroke to return to New York, Lockhart suffers a car crash and wakes up back in the wellness center with a cast on an apparent broken leg. While recovering, Dr. Volmer convinces Lockhart to partake in some of the spa’s treatments mostly involving drinking or immersing in the spa’s water supply from their aquifer.
During his stay, the story revolves around a mysterious girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) who is a special patient at the hospital and the only young “resident” at the center. There’s a subplot of Lockhart investigating the strange circumstances of the backstory of the center (it was built on the grounds of the ruins of a castle owned by a baron who was trying to knock up his barren sister because he wanted an heir of pure blood) which Lockhart learned after befriending another patient, Victoria Watkins (Celia Imrie).
The plot continues to unravel down a number of odd paths from there. There are a series of macabre scenes surrounded by enough morbid awkwardness that the film feels less shocking and more of a schlock and awe attack on the brain with the film’s length being its own worst enemy as the only thing that the stretched thin plot builds is frustration. The climax of the third act is almost laughable which is in no way the intention of the writer or director even with the film’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek feel at some points in the film.
There are some minor positives to glean from the film, though. Goth as Hannah is an excellently bizarre character fitting for a horror film such as A Cure for Wellness. The movie has some excellent visuals as Verbinski is a master technician. Unfortunately, the technical execution doesn’t help drive a rather predictable plot that finds itself choosing the obvious twists and turns. Plus, the scenes at the wellness center feel oddly reminiscent of the opening scenes of The Lobster which did the secretly evil spa plot device much better last year. (I know, I know. The place in The Lobster was a retreat for lonely singles to find mates but you’ll see the similarities in the feel of the films if you watch both.) All in all, A Cure for Wellness feels like a huge missed opportunity and a prescriptive problem with Verbinski’s style for his films to overstay their welcome on screen. There’s a much better movie here if only for a few bad choices by the creative team responsible for bringing the movie to life.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Goth (The Actress… Not Necessarily the Style of the Film)
Maybe it’s time to see 2015’s The Survivalist, the film Mia Goth appeared in and received the British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer for.
- The Odd Village at the Base of the Spa
At some point, we get to explore the odd town at the base of the mountain on which the wellness center is situated. It’s one of the few zigzags the film takes that actually work.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Dehydrated Plot
There’s nothing to keep this plot hydrated and the ideas seemingly dry up as the film progresses. It even feels like they’ve run out of ideas as one scene depicts a particularly graphic scene involving dentistry which we’ve seen before in The Marathon Man.
- Misappropriated Eels
Eels play a central role in the plot but the explanation is so muddy, it’s hard to understand what they necessarily are there for other than they’re creepy.
- Verbose Verbinski
If only Verbinski could find a way to tell his story in a more concise way. His last attempt at Pirates of the Caribbean ran 168 minutes so maybe I’m the idiot for expecting more. Plus, that film raked in $963 million so we brought this on ourselves.