“A Cure for Wellness” follows an aspiring young bank executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), tasked by his company to go to a mysterious Swiss retreat to bring back his boss, who refuses to return to the states. Shortly after arriving, his leg gets broken in a car crash, forcing him to stay in the center under the care of Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Issacs).
During his stay, Lockhart starts to suspect that something sinister is happening to the patients being treated with “the cure.” He also befriends a young patient, Hannah (Mia Goth), the subject of a strange obsession by Dr. Volmer.
Director Gore Verbinski, famous for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” takes an ambitious direction making for one of the most visually striking films in the horror genre since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Every shot in the film is masterfully crafted with precise staging to give the visual tone an unnerving cerebral and surreal atmosphere. Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli also make interesting attempts at using visual and narrative motifs, such as the use of water and phallic imagery with eels. While not always subtle, these attempts are worth mentioning as it’s something that most filmmakers don’t try anymore.
With all that, the film is fantastic on a technical level. However, the lengthy runtime and dark tone will polarize audiences. The film takes a lot of risks with its attempts at shock value and slower pace that will be frustrating to mainstream viewers. Verbinski doesn’t shy away from showing weird and disturbing imagery pushing the limits of what viewers are willing to watch. Without giving too much away, the plot gets too convoluted — a common trait for Verbinski’s films — and borrows heavily from “The Shining” and “Shutter Island.”
To the film’s credit however, it is refreshing to see a film try to do things that are rare in the current state of the horror genre. It doesn’t rely on jump scares for few cheap thrills. Rather it creates tension by taking advantage of the setting by making a character out of the maze-like layout of the wellness center. The film was also shot, to great effect, at the Hohenzollern Castle for exterior views of the wellness center.
The three leads of the film also provide strong performances. DeHaan as Lockhart is purposefully unlikable in the beginning, as a selfish young man. His stubbornness is consistent throughout the film, even when he starts to question his surroundings and sanity. Issacs gives his most villainous performance of his career. Goth shows a lot of range in her performance and has great potential as a character actress.
“A Cure for Wellness” is a rare film to come out the Hollywood system that will be a breath of fresh air for some, and a frustrating experience to others. In a day and age of seemingly constant remakes, sequels and adaptations, it is nice to see something that resembles an original film. Regardless if viewers like the film or not, they’ll have a unique experience with it that will stay with them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this film become a cult classic amongst genre fans within the next decade.