A Cure for Wellness (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness” is yet another example of a horror picture that boasts beautifully haunting images but, upon closer inspection, is actually hollow on the inside. If presented only with select individual scenes, it would pique our interest and we’d yearn to discover its deepest mysteries. But with a running time of almost two and a half hours, it is instead padded with scenes that do not consistently push the story in the forward direction. We get a sneaky feeling that its many ideas often get in the way of properly executing a concise horror-mystery with something important to say about modern society’s relationship with pseudoscience despite well-researched, scientific information being available right on our fingertips.
Its most memorable moments involves the protagonist being in an enclosed space. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious employee of a financial firm tasked by the board of directors to acquire a superior from a sanitarium in Switzerland, being stuck in a sensory deprivation tank as eels slowly surround his vulnerable near-naked body is what nightmares are made of. And yet despite the terror happening inside of the tank, there is a dark, macabre humor unspooling right outside it. It is a classic setup involving gasps of horror turning into laughter, vice-versa. Clearly, Verbinski understands how to execute an effective action sequence that plays upon the audience’s deepest fears. If only the rest of the film functioned on this level.
Part of the problem is it feels as though it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” emphasis is placed on establishing a creepy, slithery atmosphere. Almost every person Lockhart meets in the Swiss Alps is highly suspicious. Nearly each room wishes to whisper its history. Knickknacks on desks and files inside drawers beg to be explored or read into. And yet, for some reason, it is stuck on delivering one hallucinatory moment after another. We get it: There must be something in the drinking water. But if we cannot trust our own protagonist in an increasingly untrustworthy place, what is there to hang onto?
I found the answers to the mystery to be generic, something I’ve seen too often in smaller pictures and have been told better in those movies. There is no surprise to be had here in terms of revelations; one simply has to listen closely and pay attention to whom the camera, other than Lockhart, tends to give the suspicious eye. But perhaps I’ve seen one too many mysteries, especially on the television show “Criminal Minds,” that the denouement feels rather trite, spineless, safe, television-like.
While performances are solid all around, one cannot help but feel an aching disappointment (and frustration) especially because it seems Verbinski had access to nearly every element that could help to make a highly watchable, spine-tingling horror film. It would have been interesting if Verbinski had only less than ten million dollars to tell the same story. I bet that the results would have been less beautiful visually but with a far more interesting internal details.