For all of Gore Verbinski’s immense talents as a filmmaker, brevity isn’t among his strong points. This became remarkably apparent in the sequels to the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and most noticeably in his last film, the wildly divisive adaptation of The Lone Ranger. Verbinski returns to the big screen for the first time in four years with A Cure for Wellness, a creepy horror-thriller that features the director’s strong knack for visuals as well as his tendency letting running times expand well beyond the point of reason. The unevenness of A Cure for Wellness brings to minds the similar issues that plagued The Lone Ranger; when it’s working there’s plenty to admire but when it falters the film stumbles badly.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young executive at a massive financial firm. When we first see the young man he’s conducting business on a train while chomping on Nicorette and indulging in a cocktail. Meeting his superiors on the board, Lockhart is confronted for some of his sketchy dealings that could derail a merger that will enrich everyone on the board and Lockhart himself. In order to atone for his sins and provide the company with a scapegoat, Lockhart is to travel to Switzerland and bring back Pembroke (Harry Groener), an executive who has gone on a spa retreat at a secluded sanitarium only to write back cryptic, borderline insane letters to his former co-workers. Upon his arrival at the sanitarium, Lockhart observes an uneasy place where the wealthy pay handsomely for the cure of all their various ailments but is unable to secure a meeting with the man whom he’s been sent to meet. After speaking to the facility’s manager Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart is a terrible car accident and awakes as a patient in the sanitarium, hobbled by a cast protecting his recently broken leg. There’s a bit of comfort within this enclosed community in the form of the bond forged between Lockhart and the mysterious young woman Hannah (Mia Goth), whom Dr. Volmer shows a great deal of interest in. The questions mount and answers are in short supply as Lockhart seems to have stumbled upon a nightmarish institution.
From the moment Lockhart enters the sanitarium, Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli capture the film’s stunning production design to capture a sense of sanitized unease. That creepiness that permeates through the white halls of the sanitarium continue to build as more and more layers of the glossy façade are shed. However, the screenplay by Justin Haythe (from a story by Verbinski and Haythe) languishes for far too long on the set up. Even after it has been firmly established that this place isn’t all that it seems, Verbinski and company linger on it for far too long, losing any momentum in the film’s pacing along the way as it crawls towards its inevitable escalation. Once the film begins its escalation towards its climax it still takes its sweet time to fully reveal the truth behind all these strange happenings. Verbinski’s inability or unwillingness to gain any sense of escalating tension from A Cure for Wellness is the film’s greatest weakness.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce one of the film’s big reveals. (Don’t worry, dear reader, I won’t give away anything of importance here.) Verbinski certainly isn’t playing coy with the details on this one particular aspect of the film’s story, though the movie certainly does treat this as if it were a huge twist. The other big twist within the film, though, is much more effective and surprisingly a sharp little critique of capitalism and the malaise that the relentless quest for financial gain can have one’s soul. However, it must be noted that the more effective of the film’s two major reveals is the one given less screen time.
A Cure for Wellness is a vehicle for Dane DeHaan as a leading man and he delivers a sturdy performance. There are only one or two scenes within the film don’t take place through Lockhart’s perspective and the young actor does a decent job as the audience’s cipher through the various chamber of horrors. As the film’s villain, Jason Isaacs delivers some strong work as the duplicitous Dr. Vormer, a veneer of professionalism masking a sinister side. But the real breakout of A Cure for Wellness is the young actress Mia Goth, who brings an innocent quality to Hannah. Goth also brings to the screen a Shelly Duvall-like presence to the screen.
When it’s all said and done, A Cure for Wellness is at once an unsettling piece of horror filmmaking that utilizes an array of devices to make you squirm in your seat and an incredibly frustrating piece of filmmaking that meanders about with its unnecessary running time that will make you squirm in your seat. Verbinski has crafted a setting that is visually lush and intricately designed but the meat of the story isn’t as intricately crafted as the artifice. Just a few alterations here and there along with a little bit of trimming and A Cure for Wellness has all the makings to be a truly excellent picture instead of one that is merely okay. There’s only one cure for an unnecessarily overlong movie, and Verbinski seems to be allergic to that elixir.
A Cure for Wellness
Equally unsettling and frustrating, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness features some striking visuals and stunning production design but fails to sustain tension over its incredibly bloated running time.