One of the things I truly hate about film trailers is the tendency to label the director “Visionary”. The trailers for A Cure For Wellness start off with the sentence “From Visionary Director Gore Verbinski”. Mr. Verbinski has directed some fine films indeed, but it seems that for every great film he’s made, he’s made a stinker right afterwards. Sure he directed the first Pirates Of The Caribbean film, but note that he also directed two of the sequels (which weren’t very good). He directed The Ring (2002), a seriously creepy film, but he also directed The Mexican (2001). He directed one of the most visually inventive slapstick comedies ever made, Mousehunt (1997), and one of the best westerns (that just happened to be a cartoon) ever made with Rango (2011). But he also directed The Weather Man (2005) and the bloated behemoth known as The Lone Ranger (2013). Stanley Kubrick was a visionary director. Steven Spielberg is a visionary director. In my opinion, Gore Verbinski is a very good director, but hardly a visionary.
Which leads me to his latest film, A Cure For Wellness, in which a young executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is dispatched to the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO from a wellness center where he’s been ensconced for a long period of time. He arrives to find a quaint spa where people happily undergo deep massages, hydrotherapy treatments, & fine dining. But he slowly discovers that appearances can indeed be very deceiving, and soon finds himself an unwilling patient. It all sounds vaguely reminiscent of Shutter Island (2010), and while ultimately it isn’t – it isn’t very good either.
Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart well enough, but the character is introduced as a somewhat unsavory individual, and I was never really sure if I was supposed to root for him or not. Perhaps I wasn’t, but the film doesn’t really make his character distinctive enough to care what happens to him anyway. Jason Issacs does a much better job of giving the audience reason to cheer/jeer him as Volmer, the head physician at the clinic. Issacs is one of the more undersung actors of his generation in my opinion, I can’t remember him giving a bad performance in any film he’s appeared in. Mia Goth plays Hannah, plays a young patient who initially presents herself as something of a waif, but slowly comes out of her shell once introduced to Lockhart. Goth does a good job of slowly revealing her character’s sexuality to both Lockhart and the audience.
The biggest problem for me here is the meandering script (by Justin Haythe), which is besotted with B movie tropes, yet it never really uses them to its advantage. The script withers away underneath the strength of the amazing visuals on display. Indeed, this is one of the best looking films (of any genre) I’ve seen in a long time. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli has created some of the most gorgeous looking set pieces ever displayed in a genre film. But with a bloated (& totally unnecessary) running time of 146 minutes, they all start to look the same after awhile. The script is painfully convoluted, dealing with the mystery behind the supposed “Healing Waters” of the clinic, a dead aristocrat, and his young bride (Who just happened to be his sister). But in all honesty, with such a ridiculously indulgent running time, I just didn’t care after about 90 minutes. But Verbinski has those amazing visuals to bolster the film, and there are a few scenes that will definitely make you wince. One involving a tube connected being forced down Lockhart’s throat, and another featuring what has to be the most horrifying example of dental torture ever put on film. It’s seriously disturbing.
A lot of Verbinski’s films feature an extended running time, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at how long this film is, but he just doesn’t have enough story to warrant this film’s length. The visuals kept me in the mix for awhile, but eventually I just got bored – really, really bored. This film could be at least 30-35 minutes shorter with no harm done to the main story. Bottom line is, just because you can make a film that’s over 2 1/2 hours long doesn’t mean you should. At the very least, wait until you have a script that warrants such an extensive length. What A Cure For Wellness ends up becoming is a C film wrapped up in A film visuals. Quite frankly, I’m not too sure who the audience for this film is. It’s not an outright horror film, but it’s not a suspense film either. There’s very little humor in the film, and what drama there is comes off as flat and stilted. Less patient audiences will balk at the film’s running time, and even a more forgiving audience is gonna have trouble sitting through this one after a couple of hours, so I don’t know who it was made for. In addition, a lot of this film’s visuals reminded me of a video game released some years ago called Bioshock. I then remembered talk of a Bioshock film gearing up for production that was to be directed by…Gore Verbinski. That film never came to pass, but it seems that Verbinski took some ideas from what he wanted to do in that film, and applied them to this one.
Ultimately, A Cure For Wellness is a disappointment. It’s too bloated and convoluted for its own good, and it’s protagonist is someone you can’t cheer for. It does have its share of horrific moments, and you will swoon at the beauty of it all. But in the end, it’s one of the more blatant cases of style over substance that I’ve ever seen in a film. All the good looking scenery in the world will only get you so far, and in the case of A Cure For Wellness – it’s nowhere near far enough.
A Cure For Wellness (1.5 / 5)