With A Cure for Wellness, director Gore Verbinski returns to the glossy horror of his meandering 2002 remake of The Ring. An ambitious whiz kid executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is tasked with travelling to an unorthodox “wellness centre” in the Swiss Alps in search of the company CEO who seems to have permanently left his business pursuits behind. Lockhart’s pressing need to bring his boss back to New York – so that he can sign off on a company merger among other things – seems lost on the centre employees, especially Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) who stresses the importance of “the cure” and his distaste for the complexities of modern life. “The cure” it seems, involves frequently drinking, swimming and being submerged in the water that runs through the Alps; careerist ideals are the illness.
A car accident – caused by a CGI deer that seems to appear in every contemporary studio horror movie – leaves Lockhart with a broken leg. Forced to recover in the uncomfortably idyllic wellness centre; Lockhart begins to uncover both it’s history and seemingly malevolent intentions, both of which seem to revolve around a mysterious girl of inscrutable age.
A Cure for Wellness superficially resembles both The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s recent Shutter Island. Deliberately paced, suitably paranoid and lacking reliance on jump scares; the film is initially geared towards my tastes. It’s visually stunning, opening with smoggy, almost alien compositions of the monolithic New York landscape. Later, the contrast between the clinical hallways and surgery rooms of the wellness centre, against the jagged, serene Alps is noticeable. And the shots that cling to the sides of reflective cars and train carriages manage to give both a clear spatial perspective and still disorientate the viewer. Verbinski’s visual direction is more than adept but his film is a drag.
A Cure for Wellness attempts to ape the mystery, paranoia and atmosphere found in the two aforementioned films but it is far too long at nearly two and a half hours. Atmospheric horror built through a hypnotic pace can be wonderfully effective as in the recent The VVitch but A Cure for Wellness is simply too turgid with little, if any payoff. What ought to be scary, is left muted by obvious telegraphing. Constant, reoccurring reminders underwhelm; a toilet handle moves by itself on three separate occasions in Lockhart’s room over the course of the film but we know from the first moment, what awaits when he lifts the lid. He notices something in the water in the opening act, but continues to drink it because we have two hours left of torturous movie to watch yet.
Dane DeHaan resembles Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Shutter Island, and he does a fine job playing a mildly unlikable protagonist (leaving us to initially wonder if Dr. Volmer’s cure is in his best interest). Isaacs is suitably menacing when given the chance; the actors do a fine job. The film however, feels like a series of weak horror vignettes; DeHaan slowly walks with his crutches through every spooky corridor or menacing medical room, reacting to every thematically inconsequential sight, one by one. Most of these scenes could be jumbled without much ill effect to the film; most of them should not be here. It’s not that A Cure for Wellness is too long or too slow, it’s simply ineffective and lacks payoff.
Verbinski’s film sinks even further as Lockhart comes to the end of his horror treasure hunt, propelled into a preposterous ending that recalls Gore’s last 13 years directing bombastic blockbusters. It’s not fun, and it’s not even ‘not fun’ in a good horror movie sort of way.