Director Gore Verbinski has crafted quite an interesting career. After striking genre gold with the remake of the Japanese horror film Ringu, orchestrating one of Disney’s most successful franchises with Pirates of the Caribbean, and continuing his collaboration with Johnny Depp on the animated film Rango and the reboot of The Lone Ranger, Verbinski was poised to do whatever he wanted to do with his next film, and it doesn’t take long to realize this quality in the director’s new film, A Cure for Wellness.
For nearly two and a half hours, Verbinski compiles a beautiful, confounding, and chaotic medley of his favorite and most influential film scenes recreated. One moment you are whisked away on a train ride through the Swiss Alps in a moment of stunning scenery, the next you are offered images of unnerving and repulsive situations. It’s undeniable that Verbinski and director of photography Bojan Bazelli can find the beauty in any situation. Unfortunately, coherence doesn’t seem high on the priority list.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is an ambitious and arrogant young executive moving his way up the business ladder, but he is blindsided by the higher-ups and tasked with going to a reclusive “wellness center” to bring back the CEO who left under suspicious circumstances. Upon arrival, Lockhart finds himself at odds with the doctor of the facility, a charming man named Volmer (Jason Isaacs), until an accident has him admitted as a patient. Realizing there is something very mysterious about the “wellness center,” Lockhart undergoes an investigation to discover the many secrets that lie within the walls of the facility.
Aside from this basic overview, the plot doesn’t make much of a difference. Verbinski never seems too concerned with providing any kind of answers to the bizarre and sometimes completely outlandish happenings in the film. Instead, it’s the questions, mostly proposed through strange visuals, which are the primary focus for the director. To this extent, the Verbinski achieves a rich and striking palette of oddities; gothic beauty reminiscent of the Hammer horror age or the gray and blue colored world seen in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Thematically, the film feels like a “greatest hits” of influences; The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Phantom of the Opera, and Dracula are just a few of the older references, while Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island seems to be the most pertinent newer one. Most interesting are the intersections with the style and tone of Roman Polanski’s darker visions.
Still, these influences don’t play much of a bigger role than making the film interesting to look at. While there are moments that suggest better narrative angles, specifically about societal concerns related to isolation and illness, they are never completely realized. Dane DeHaan’s lead character Lockhart, who is unlikable throughout the majority of the film, doesn’t help the narrative. While you may root for him as a detective unraveling a mystery, you may also not care when bad things happen to him. And bad things happen, disturbing and cringe-worthy things. Verbinski goes for shock in numerous horror scenarios; giant eels, bodies afloat in tanks, gore, and one scene, not to be spoiled, that will tap directly into a nightmare many people have.
The picturesque quality of A Cure For Wellness sustains much of the engagement, but the narrative leaps into so many different places by the midway point, with a final act that completely devours any semblance of structure established before it, that the film never quite recovers. However, credit to Verbinski for bringing what seems like an uncompromised nightmare to life.
Movie Score: 3/5