Through the depths of unchained terror and psychological horror, one man seeks to hold onto his sanity through A Cure For Wellness. An ambitious young executive (Dane Dehahn) is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure. The film is directed by long time visionary mastermind Gore Verbinski, and is rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and adult language.
The very definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect different results. If this rings true, then A Cure For Wellness stumbles over its ambitious direction with an derivative script by Justin Haythe that never does it any favors in lasting impressions. In regards to a television style of storytelling, A Cure For Wellness works beautifully, offering a wide range of psychological thrills to mesh with its truly breathtaking complexity in the mind of one of the most ideal visionary directors going today in Verbinski. But when you consider that this long term investment of 142 minutes is a feature film, you slowly start to feel the momentum and excitement slip from its grasps, resulting in one of the truly most destructive third acts that I have ever seen. If I am being brief, there’s a reasonably solid offering of a movie somewhere within the deep clutches of this convoluted and often times disjointed mess. I myself enjoyed the first 90 minutes of the film, with the approaches in screenplay reaching more for simplistic, while presenting grade-A cinematography that is alluring and complementary to the former. Unfortunately, it all goes out the window fast with a cluttered script that easily could’ve used another re-write.
For all of its hints towards the brain and how it works, the film sadly depends more on plot twists that are every bit as unnecessary as they are taxing to the very investment of the audience’s psyche. One interesting aspect of these mysteries that I didn’t understand was why they were treated as such with an audience who could’ve easily pieced the answers together on two hours of sleep. The script treats its characters like morons, most notably in a subplot on the dependency of water to the patients of the facility that was obvious from the first mention of it. After that, it and every other setup is repeatedly hammered over the head, giving way to the first of many cuts that should’ve been made to this hearty helping. If the film wanted mystery, It should’ve focused on the mental health of Dehahn’s character as he navigates his way through the halls of the box of madness. The focus on if this man really is crazy would’ve intrigued me a whole lot more than knowing the answer to that question in the first act of the movie. Because these mysteries are so obvious and apparent, we as an audience just wait patiently for them to catch-up, halting the progress of a script every ten minutes or so to introduce a new aspect of cluttered storytelling that overwhelms in the worst of ways.
The ending goes completely batshit, force-feeding a supernatural aspect not only to logical thinking, but also to the compromising attitude of this picture that it had set up for itself two hours earlier. No one should ever laugh in a negative sort of way to a picture this disturbing, but the finale of this movie not only overreaches because it had a perfectly tucked in ending at the two hour mark, but also takes the cartoonish aspect in wrapping everything up. What were they thinking? It feels like something that was tacked on after an original screening for the movie disappointed test audiences. If this is what they think will satisfy that same crowd, then it’s clear that this idea in plot never had a satisfying exit to boot, and the film instead leaves its audience in a comfortably numb kind of feeling.
For Verbinski, at least the time investment does pay off in spades to some horrifically entrancing visuals that terrified well when placed against the greenish tint of exceptional cinematography. This color in shading certainly gives off the impression that there’s constantly an unseen sickness in the air, and that diagnosis plays well to the blind mice patients who are constantly in search of “the cure”. It’s great to see a horror movie that is given a professional presentation of sorts to creative camera angles, as well as shot framing that is unorthodox to this particular style of genre. Some of Gore’s artistic directions involve a camera on the side of the cars to keep the audience riding alongside its movements, a stuffed horse’s head whose eyes reflect the establishing shot being seen before our very own eyes, and the water level still shot that always leaves room for something more to be lurking just beneath the surface. All of these and many more proved that Verbinski was the right man for the job, and his more than prestigious reputation is made even more commendable in a sanity-slipping euphoria in a thick cloud of toxic haze.
The sound mixing by sound effects editor David Chrastka also plays hand-in-hand with the musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch that teamed up for my single favorite aspect of the movie. Every scene of suspense continues to build a band of accompanied sounds that hammers a chorus of repetition to the viewer, driving them a little mad in relating to the characters in tow. When you hear such crisp detection of aspects like Dehahn’s crutches or the jiggling of a toilet handle that serves as a metaphor for Dehahn’s slipping psyche, you really come to admire just how much detail and precision was used to flatter audiences with audio capabilities in the same manner that Verbinski steals the show with luxurious visuals. The duo of Wallfisch and Chrastka constantly kept my ears glued to the ensuing madness, even if my eyes had left the building with how many times the script let me down.
As for performances, there’s very little to rave about, and most of that is of no fault to the cast. The backstories in character expositions are so flawed that I still have a couple of questions regarding Dehahn’s history as a child that were shoe-horned in to this lengthy offering. Two and a half hours isn’t enough to tell every subplot in detail? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Dehahn has always been someone who I’ve been a fan of, but once again he is choosing a role that does him no favors on showing his dramatic leverage. As far as characters go, his is not only detestable for his Business head arrogance to go and do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but also naive in how many times he continues to fall for the same trick, rendering his character caught each and every time. Dane does as much as you can ask with this little of likeability, but there’s nothing memorable of heart-wrenching to the prisoner-like conditions that he is held to. Jason Isaacs is solid, but the damaging finale leaves his character in perhaps the biggest jumbled mess of the movie. A reveal during this time cost us any chance in charm that we would get to see with typical good guy Isaacs making a long-winded antagonist speech. When he’s kept simple, Isaacs works, but my moral stigma favoring his character more than Dehahn’s only further hammered home how outside of the box this film’s thinking process was.
A Cure For Wellness slugs through three grueling acts of convoluted material that weighs down heavily on the grand scale of award-worthy sights and sounds that the movie treats us to. As the film goes on, you find yourself slipping through the depths of sanity, resulting in a test of patience for the mind that is orchestrated by a clock that is constantly playing tricks on you. I would only recommend this movie if you stop watching at the 90 minute mark, otherwise it’s another disappointing offering in a genre that is still searching for the cure.