A Cure for Wellness

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Release: Friday, February 17, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Justin Haythe

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Gore Verbinski, the punk-rocker-turned filmmaker who coughed up the mess that was the 2013 reboot of The Lone Ranger, returns with an icky horror epic about a hot-shot Wall Streeter who travels to a remote rehab facility stashed high in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s seemingly AWOL CEO. When he arrives there, he discovers his mission won’t be as simple as he had hoped.

Dane DeHaan gets to play the ambitious young stockbroker Lockhart who must find a man named Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) and return him to New York City to sign off on a massive merger that is about to make everyone filthy rich. The problem is, Pembroke, like many of the patients at the facility, isn’t in a hurry to leave. There’s something about the fresh Alpine air and the soothing aqua-therapy treatments that makes it really hard to return to the grind of modern living.

Lockhart suspects something is afoot as soon as he arrives but he isn’t exactly the altruistic sort. He isn’t even that interested in the welfare of his CEO. He’s preoccupied with saving himself from ruination after his higher-ups discover his unscrupulousness and send him off to Switzerland to complete a simple task. When Lockhart becomes involved in a car accident he wakes up in the treatment facility as a patient, one of his legs seemingly broken. A Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) assures Lockhart that through a steady intake of clean drinking water and a sampling of the facilities, he’ll be back to normal in no time.

A Cure for Wellness deals almost exclusively in vaguery and abstraction, a creative decision often hazardous to the film’s own health. Contradictory, disturbing and often downright baffling imagery complements as much as it detracts from the journey to find a cure for “man’s sickness.” Throughout we are beaten over the head with decreasingly effective reminders that the outside world is sick, not so much in a physical sense, but rather in a psychological or emotional one. Perhaps even in a philosophical sense. Whatever sounds the most grandiose.

Avarice is what’s ailing Lockhart, apparently. He’s an unlikable brat for whom sympathy is nearly impossible to gain. But that’s less of a problem when we come to realize this isn’t a character-driven piece, that Lockhart is really just a plot device rather than an actual human being for whom we’re supposed to feel something — perhaps pity. A screenplay by Justin Haythe (of aforementioned Lone Ranger infamy) recycles and rehashes and reemphasizes the movie’s already familiar themes and fails to excavate any emotion out of the myriad perversities.

In A Cure for Wellness, DeHaan’s inconsistencies as an actor become fairly obscured by the film’s hypnotic, gothic sheen. In a movie that deemphasizes performance and characterization in favor of communicating big, heavy themes, the actor can (sort of) get away with a shallow portrayal of Wall Street filth. He’s serviceable in what might be considered his most unique career choice yet.

Yet his involvement in the story is confusing. It is unclear whether he’s meant to be the ambassador of all mankind or just the one-percenters who do what they must in order to remain at the top. Verbinski’s ambitions beg for a stronger character-oriented story. Instead the film leaves DeHaan adrift in an observational role that barely justifies our access to the specific rooms and the specific experiences that Lockhart finds himself wading through haphazardly. The end result is a meandering, emotionally hollow cinematic experience.

I don’t want to harp on the running time too much because I find it’s not really the length that’s the problem, but rather the way the time is spent. Cohesion is certainly a problem and the cure might have been to trim a few segments here and there. Ultimately though, it’s the circles we end up running in as Lockhart slowly puts the puzzle pieces together and attempts to free himself from a world much more twisted than our own.

In an attempt to distract from the lack of substance he has to back up his thesis on the folly of modern society, Verbinski hypnotizes with a barrage of visuals that are as gorgeous as they are often off-putting. It’s what I would describe as lazy filmmaking and it left me with the queasy feeling that I just sat through a nearly three hour movie that had nothing to offer at all — other than the sorts of breathtaking vistas only the Swiss Alps can provide.

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2-0Recommendation: A Cure for Wellness offers curious viewers a visually spectacular but somewhat empty cinematic experience. There are a few truly compelling sequences and some stuff that might not let you sleep for a day or so, but more often than not the movie is entirely unsurprising and not very involving. Dane DeHaan fans might be pleased to see the actor branching out, however. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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13 thoughts on “A Cure for Wellness

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: February ’17 | Thomas J

    • I read a review that accurately summed it up the other day: it’s a movie that only spirals downward. Haha! That ending is atrocious. But yes, the movie looks stunning. But that’s just not enough, sadly.

  2. I thought this movie had a really intriguing trailer but all of these mediocre to bad reviews seem to say otherwise. I guess I’ll be waiting for it on DVD.

  3. Ugh. I feel like I should go out and support this (just because it is so unique and the industry needs unique features), but damn, sleekness and presentation can only take a film so far without strong performances and a sound plot, right?

    And I know you didn’t harp on the runtime, but for most of the thought pieces I’ve read and heard, 2:30 ish is a lot of time for this to go on without a real compelling plot.

    • Honestly I didn’t “feel” the running time but I was pretty well annoyed and disappointed with the way the final act goes. Frankly, it’s terrible.

  4. I second Ryan’s comment, dammit man. I was holding out for this one. It looks good and I adore DeHaan. Gotta check it out anyway and see.

    • Yeah sadly DeHaan’s not exactly something I’d see this for but the movie looks really really good. The characters are just awful and awfully written. Meh.

    • That’s why it’s still worth seeing somewhat — it looks amazing. There are some really cool and quite honestly gross sequences strewn throughout but the whole thing is just so damn bloated and, I didn’t say this in my review, but the ending is pretty dissatisfying.

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