Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Justin Haythe
Stars: Jason Isaacs, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth
Stress makes you sick. That’s a fact. The older you get, the more it affects you, mentally and physically. What better way to reset than a spa environment in the Swiss Alps?
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is an ambitious, young executive, tasked with bringing a company CEO back from a treatment center in Switzerland. The staff at the center, lead by Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), put him off and he becomes suspicious. When an unexpected accident leaves him in the center’s care, he begins an investigation into the spa’s treatments, questioning his sanity in the process.
The premise seems simple enough, but the ride you go on is anything but...
The character of Lockhart is unlikeable from his first moments on screen. He’s morally bankrupt and void of any empathy, until he meets Hanna (Mia Goth), a wisp of a girl, seemingly much too young to be a resident. She is the only real color, figuratively and literally, in Lockhart’s journey and he is determined to save her, even though she doesn’t want saving. DeHaan’s performance is admirable, but is too much a DiCaprio wannabe. Isaacs has, arguably, the best role and is a delight to watch, even in the most uncomfortable moments.
Water is the running theme here (no pun intended). The human body is about 60% water and we need water to live. Not surprisingly, there is an abundance of water related therapies used, as well as numerous shots of characters drinking the stuff in an effort to be cured of a sickness that is never defined.
Although not a period film, once through the gates of the center, all of the modern trappings disappear and it feels like you’ve been transported back in time. In the confines of the century’s old mountaintop castle, residents are playing croquet on the lawn in white spa robes, the staff is adorned in throwback medical uniforms, the accommodations are institutional, and the treatments archaic. Naturally, the center has a seriously sordid history, which continues to unfold over the course of the film.
Full of stunning imagery, there isn’t a moment when your eyes aren’t fully engaged. The location itself is a main character. Shot in Germany at Castle Hohenzollern and Beelitz-Heilstätten, a former TB clinic and sanatorium, the practical sets lend an air of reality to an otherwise surreal head trip.
While we’re discussing imagery, quite a bit of it is downright disturbing. More than one person walked out of the screening I was at during a particular sequence and even I will admit I had to look away a couple of times. Fortunately for me, that’s exactly what I want in a horror film. If you suffer from a weak constitution, this is not the movie for you.
A Cure For Wellness has a few strikes against it. First, its runtime is nearly two and a half hours. That’s tough for any film, but for a horror film, it can be the kiss of death. There is also a lot of story to untangle. Top this off with flashbacks, possible hallucinations, and a general warped sense of time and you’re not sure what the hell is happening, even when you do.
Suzanne Bell | Twitter: @chazensjezebel