Gore Verbinski follows up The Lone Ranger with an extended Gothic psycho-horror
Dir. Gore Verbinski. US, 2017, 146 mins.
There’s a certain pleasure to be had from an expensive misfire. That’s the best that can be said for Gore Verbinski’s archly Gothic psycho-drama A Cure For Wellness. It’s queasily-entertaining enough to make a late night mark on cable networks, where it may be eventually hailed as misunderstood and its seemingly interminable 146-minute running time broken up by trips to the bathroom, kitchen, or calls to emergency services as viewer atrophy sets in. Theatrically, its prospects would appear to be as doomed as its charisma-free hero, despite Fox being on board for several major territories.
Verbinski resorts to ratcheting up the ugliness, stuffing Wellness with increasingly-dour moments from sucker eels to a Marathon Man dental sequence
A B-movie cast grapples with A-movie trappings to ever diminishing returns, as Verbinski’s ode to the Vincent Price horror never quite lives up to the level of its voluptuous sets, by British designer Eve Stewart. Another Brit, Jason Isaacs, has the most interesting role here as Dr Volmer, the head of a sinister Swiss sanatorium, but Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth headline as its increasingly forlorn inmates. Neither is a household name, nor are they likely to ascend to that level on the basis of A Cure For Wellness.
There’s undoubtedly a good film in here, or perhaps two of them. But, following on from the commercial collapse of his last release, The Lone Ranger, Verbinski has maintained a surprising level of directorial freedom in which a baggy screenplay is allowed to endlessly flap around like one of the film’s gasping eels. From its false prologue, involving a man in an office who has a heart attack beside a water cooler, the film is visually arresting, but narratively stale.
DeHaan, playing an amoral Wall Street climber named Lockhart, is dispatched to Switzerland to find out what has become of one of his company’s partners (Harry Groener) prior to a vital corporate merger. He left for a spa retreat and has not returned. On the way to the Alps-set sanatorium, Lockhart is told that, Dracula-style, locals despise the inhabitants of this majestic structure due to some long-ago bloodsucking mumbo-jumbo involving peasants who eventually set the building alight.
Once inside its majestic confines (the filmmakers used Hohenzollern Castle in Germany’s Swabian Alps), Lockhart is left to figure out the mystery at its (literal) core, helped by Celia Imrie as one of its zombified white-clad inmates. Water is a theme, clearly, and the ethereal Mia Goth is a key. She floats around in a childish dress (costumed by Jenny Beavan) like a creature from another time, which is a weighty clue on the proceedings.
With Lockhart set up as a somewhat unlikable anti-hero, the film casts around for compelling stakes to fight itself out of the sanotarium’s torpor. Involved in an accident, Lockhart lurches to and fro in a leg cast trying to get to the bottom of the spa’s fishier elements, but there’s simply not enough of Isaacs as the evil Dr Volmer for viewers to latch on to and have some fun with.
In the end, Verbinski resorts to ratcheting up the ugliness, stuffing Wellness with increasingly-dour moments from sucker eels to a Marathon Man dental sequence. With a haunting soundtrack and exquisite visuals, all rendered in a murky post-industrial palette by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, the film’s technical credits can never be faulted. Yet they’re all that anchors A Cure For Wellness as, like its eels, it spins and turns in its own frustrating confines.
Production companies: Blink Wink, New Regency
International distribution: 20th Century Fox
Producers: Arnon Milchan, Gore Verbinski, David Crockett.
Executive producers: Justin Haythe, Morgan Des Groseillers
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, from a story by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli.
Editors: Lance Pereira, Pete Beaudrea
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Main cast: Jason Isaacs, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Adrian Schiller, Harry Groener, Johannes Krisch