A Cure for Wellness (2017)

So…it’s a roughly 15 minute stroll to and from our local theatre; a feature of our ‘new’ neighborhood (6 months now?) that hasn’t not lost it’s novelty. Normally, when I walk out of a flick, I spend the time it takes to amble home to mentally process what I had seen, in order to prep my ‘gut reaction’ review to whatever title I had just witnessed. Today…it was more of a confused mental ‘unraveling’ as I struggled to fall on one side of the fence or the other, regarding how the movie left me feeling. First off, I went in with no expectations. I’d seen two of the trailers for this, and was smitten with the visuals, but I didn’t have a firm grip on the story. Director Gore Verbinski (‘The Ring’) has always had, if nothing else, a keen eye and somewhat sophisticated style that he’s put to gorgeous use in some of his past releases. I knew that after the debacle of his ill-fated (and VERY expensive) 2013 attempt to bring a Big Screen ‘The Lone Ranger’ adaptation to the masses, that he was going to have to (unnecessarily) reprove his mettle to Hollywood…most likely through a smaller flick that actually stands a chance of netting a profit, to help him get back in the groove. And that’s exactly what ‘A Cure for Wellness’ is.
After the flick opens with the mysterious, late night death of a business executive in a high-rise, we’re introduced to a young member of the firm named ‘Lockhart’ (Dane Dehaan). ‘Lockhart’ is summoned to a high level meeting where he’s tasked, ‘Apocalypse Now’-style, with tracking down an senior employee who has key information regarding an impending merger. This particular employee has apparently been holed up in a reclusive but exclusive health ‘spa’, nestled into the foot of the Alps in Switzerland, after a nervous breakdown. ‘Lockhart’, put into a position where he can’t refuse, travels to the spa with the single-minded intention of finding the missing colleague and shoving him back onto a plane to New York. As to be expected, this ‘spa’ is not what it seems, and soon ‘Lockhart’ finds himself in the crosshairs of the facilities director, ‘Volmer’ (Jason Isaacs), and thrust into a hallucinatory ‘rabbit hole’ where dark and sinister secrets lurk.
I really wanted to like this movie. I went in knowing very little about the flick and that was on purpose. I deliberately avoided my usual Youtube reviewers in hopes that I could tackle the movie fresh and, hopefully, find a hidden gem in it. Alas, when I pause to consider, I’d have to say that, as a whole, the movie didn’t work for me. That’s not to say that it’s gawd-awful or anything. There’s some VERY impressive work on display here, namely in the technical areas. It’s the script or the editing that lost me. As he’s ably proven in the past, Verbinski can be relied upon to deliver, at very least, an attractive-looking flick, and this one is no exception. I LOVE how this film looks. It has a consistent visual tone that just exudes dread, uncertainty and coldness. In many respects, and this is a compliment to both directors, I was frequently reminded of the films of David Fincher (‘Se7en’), with the calculated and visually symmetrical framing, the inventive use of angles and lighting, the patience in the editing, and the overall slower pace. The Production Design was also very cool. I don’t recall being given a specific time period as a setting, though they do use cell phones, computers and modern cars. It’s interesting to note that when ‘Lockhart’ arrives at the castle-like facility, time seems to stop. Costumes, props and sets all have a 1940s-60’s vibe to them and that all helped in conveying the confusion ‘Lockhart’ encounters when thing’s begin turning on him. The gritty but beautiful production design made me again wonder what Verbinski’s proposed but canceled ‘Bioshock’ adaptation would’ve turned out like.
The cast is pretty decent. I haven’t yet figured out if I like Dane Dehaan (‘Chronicle’) as an actor yet. His role, and visual presentation, had me thinking that this role would’ve been perfect for Leonardo DiCaprio about 10 years ago, similar to what he did in ‘Shutter Island’ (2010). Actually, there are definitely similarities between the two titles, coincidentally enough. Jason Isaacs (‘Event Horizon’) is ALWAYS good, even if ‘Volmer’ reminded me of the character he played in that stupid Netflix series ‘The OA’ (stay away from it…it sucks). An actress named Mia Goth played ‘Hannah’; a little-girl-lost type character who’s plot became a detriment to the story, largely in how out-of-the-blue and undeveloped a certain perverted ‘twist’ is. I think they all did well with what they had…the problem was that what they had…wasn’t much. No body gets any substantial character arc or development. They just seem to go through the actions, without reacting to what’s happening in a way that seems organic to the story.
Speaking of the story, there is some weird shit in this one. Shit that doesn’t always get the pay-off or explanation that it needs or deserves. The initial set-up for everything is pretty straight-forward, but by the time we get to the 3rd Act, the crazy train has come off the rails! Now I’m all for a nutty ending…an ending that goes balls-to-the-walls insane as it shrieks toward The Finish Line…but the craziness NEEDS to be set-up ahead of time in order to leave a solid, lasting impression. The set-up here wasn’t tight enough or fleshed out enough to flow into the crazy, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird chaos that the story degenerates into. I’m also all for ambiguity…to a point. There are elements here that just seem to exist to be creepy and weird, like the obsession with eels. Eels, for SOME reason, play a BIG part of this story…but we’re never really told why. There was also a couple of clunky edits, edits that point squarely at Deleted Scenes, especially one in particular in which ‘Lockhart’ has been captured and is being horribly tortured….and is suddenly stowing away in a car…with no explanation at all as to how he managed to get away from his captors and escape. It was jarring, to say the least. But given how slowly this movie moves, pacing-wise, I’m sure they thought they needed to make some kind of cuts in order to speed things up…not that it worked. The movie definitely takes it’s time and often, in the right film, I’m all for patient pacing. Here…not so much. This story didn’t need to be just shy of 2 and 1/2 hours long. A further 15 minutes removed would’ve probably done some good.
All in all…I can’t recommend ‘A Cure for Wellness’ on the Big Screen. There are some aspects that I definitely loved, especially many of the disciplined and interesting shot compositions and the overall creepy atmosphere. Much of the film score was complimentary to the dark tone too, with there being an almost threatening whimsy to the music…if that makes any sense at all. Bottom line, the tunes went well with the distinct visual style. It’s just unfortunate that the script or final edit just weren’t up to the strength of the technical elements. The characters are pretty dull, a couple key plot points are half-baked and meandering, and the crazy 3rd Act comes off as crazy-for-crazy’s sake, not to mention being longer than it needed to be. I’d be willing to check this one out again, to see if there were any cool details that I maybe missed the first time around, but it won’t be on the Must Buy list for my Blu ray collection.

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