Easily one of the more thought-provoking horror movies to get a wide release in some time, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness arrives in theaters this weekend courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Not one to shy away from an ambitious directorial challenge, during our interview, Verbinski discussed bringing the unknown back to big screen horror, what fueled his desire to tackle a wholly unique story after years of bringing popular properties to life, and how A Cure for Wellness is his own twisted version of a fairy tale.
Look for A Cure for Wellness in theaters everywhere on Friday, February 17th.
For the last ten or so years, with the exception of Rango, you’ve been working with different existing properties in regards to your directorial work. Was it something that you were conscious of, as you began putting A Cure for Wellness together, that this was your way to break out a little bit as a storyteller?
Gore Verbinski: It’s a big ask to try and get people to get into their cars and come out for a movie these days. That’s why you’re seeing an eventizing of that kind of experience on Cure. There was a time where we went to the movies, and we hadn’t already been to the theme park, or played the video game, or read the book before we saw the actual movie, and this was just my way of trying to get back to that feeling again. What about going to the movie theater and not knowing anything about what you were just about to watch? So sure, that was definitely intentional here.
Had you been conscious of what the horror landscape had been over the last few years going into Cure, and did that at all carry over into your approach on the film?
Gore Verbinski: For sure. We’ve distilled the genre down to pop-outs and 90 minutes of scares lately, and for me, I like that feeling, when the curtain closes and the film is done, that you’re left with something that lingers with you. I don’t want something that might be initially scary, but doesn’t carry any side effects with it. The movies that I grew up on were much more devastating in that way.
I always appreciate when a story can tap into a modern zeitgeist or a contemporary fear, but as a society, there is something that makes us vulnerable to these things—whether it’s a pharmaceutical company, kale diets, or whatever—and I think that fear comes from us knowing that deep down, something is not right.
So taking a little more time and exploring those ideas, so viewers can try and figure out for themselves, too, just what is wellness? You have to sometimes dig deeper when you’re asking the bigger questions.
I’m curious, knowing the themes you explore here, did making A Cure for Wellness impact your own viewpoints on some of these ideas?
Gore Verbinski: Definitely. I tried as hard as I could to get back to that boundary of the unknown, and it was an exciting process for me. Even making Rango was an exciting process because I had never done a traditional animated movie before that, so that was an engaging idea to pursue. Even with Pirates [of the Caribbean], I remember someone saying, “You can’t make a pirate movie because they haven’t worked for 30 years,” so when you get challenged like that, you lean into it more.
With Cure, I wanted to go back to that nervous excitement you feel at the beginning, when you aren’t sure whether or not this thing is actually going to work. It’s an exciting place to be, and as much as the data might argue against it, I think audiences want to see something new and wholly original. That’s something you don’t get as a moviegoer all that often anymore.
One aspect of A Cure for Wellness that I thought was really interesting, was how with certain characters, we don’t ever learn their first names, and then there’s Hannah, who quickly evolves into the emotional center of this story. Was that intentional on your part, to keep us distanced from some characters and closer to others?
Gore Verbinski: Oh, yes, that was definitely intentional. With some of the characters, you never learn Lockhart’s first name in the story, and that was something that the writer, Justin Haythe, and I discussed very early on. We were adamant that it would help with this feeling of entering this dreamlike logic the closer Lockhart gets to this place, where he’s almost in a waking state. We were preying upon that kind of enigma as his motivation to solve the mystery of this place he’s found himself unable to escape.
So, getting certain aspects of the story to this “adjacent place,” where the viewers can then dig into those mysteries themselves, we thought that was more interesting than just going the traditional route where we had all of this exposition we could just throw out there. That kind of storytelling has value, and in certain ways, this movie itself is very much like a fairy tale. It’s a reverse Sleeping Beauty, where Lockhart is the one slipping into this dream state, or going dormant, and Hannah is the one who has woken up because of his arrival.
I love H.P. Lovecraft for that very same reason, where you can’t possibly begin to understand the unknown without losing your mind at the same time. And the closer Lockhart gets to the truth here, the more his sanity is in jeopardy.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliant work of Bojan [Bazelli], who makes every single frame of this movie feel like a work of art. I know you guys collaborated back on The Ring, but I’d love to hear how it was working with him again on this one.
Gore Verbinski: We have sort of a strange and symbiotic relationship. It’s mad, really. I went to Germany knowing nobody, so I had to work with an entirely new crew there. And so, I just wanted to be able to work with someone who I had a shorthand with, but originally Bojan was on another movie and wasn’t available. I met with several other camera men, but at the end of the day, I still wanted to really work with him on this, so I said I’d rather have him come in on this late than try and figure things out with anyone else.
He is very much about the light, and I’m very much about the composition, so we compliment each other very well. He’s so passionate about everything, and you just cannot buy something like that.
In case you missed it, check out our previous coverage of A Cure for Wellness: