Horror thriller turns into a nauseating experience
By Noah Orent
It’s no secret that Gore Verbinski, the man who spearheaded the first three installments in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, is known for taking ambitious risks. His latest effort, “A Cure for Wellness,” is certainly no exception, presenting itself as a motion picture that intends to break all horror genre trends. By the time the opening credits finish rolling, however, this impression evaporates and what remains is a labyrinthine mess that is anything but scary.
Set against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps, the story opens with Wall Street stockbroker Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) arriving in Switzerland after being blackmailed by his firm’s board of directors into retrieving CEO Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), who has retreated to a remote health spa, in time for a critical merger deal. When a car accident confines him to the spa with a broken leg, Lockhart is placed in the care of director Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who insists that his new patient undergo the spa’s renowned wellness treatment. Lockhart, however, remains undeterred from his task and sets out to find Pembroke only to unravel a secret that leaves him fighting for his sanity.
Thrill-seekers looking for something to keep the heart racing will be disappointed to learn that this film is nothing more than a muddle of cherry-picked horror cliches – the bizarre medical experiments, the Gothic castle, the mad doctor, etc. – smashed together into one enormous hodgepodge. It seems as though screenwriter Justin Haythe, who collaborated with Verbinski on the 2013 reimagining of the “Lone Ranger” radio series, waited until the last minute to come up with what he thought was an original story.
Verbinski fails to make up for the aforementioned criticism, cutting back and forth between the film’s major storylines to the point where the narrative’s flow is severely disrupted. While said storylines – the first revolving around the strange happening taking place at the spa and the second revolving around a patient intrigued by an ancient legend – show promise, their potential is ultimately squandered. Had Verbinski paid more attention to these narrative threads, viewers might have had something to look forward to.
To make matters all the more excruciating, the cast struggles to leave a lasting impression. DeHaan establishes the kind of person Lockhart is – cold, calculating and fully committed to making a name for himself – but is largely limited to hobbling around on crutches and solving a puzzle that makes no sense. Isaacs, meanwhile, brings his usual villainous expertise to the table but seems out of place, as if he is trying to make sense of this unimaginative spectacle.
English Brazilian actress Mia Goth has the misfortune of standing between the two leads as Hannah, an orphaned girl who Volmer keeps under lock and key, but makes the most of it with a childlike portrayal that, while heartbreaking to watch, is very much the film’s high point.
One can wax lyrical about each individual member of the ensemble cast but, to be perfectly frank, not a single actor or actress manages to engage viewers. The stilted dialogue and shallow characterization does the exact opposite by literally boring the audience to death.
On a minor note, the film’s well-executed style provides a welcome distraction from the macabre proceedings. Views of the majestic Alpine mountain range and the Manhattan skyline, the latter of which is only seen in the first five minutes, will undoubtedly take the audience’s breath away, if only for a moment.
To say that “A Cure for Wellness” is riddled with problems is an understatement. It is a tiresome cinematic offering that not only proves that audiences have seen it all when it comes to horror films, but also emphasizes the desperate need for a breath of fresh air.