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Gore Verbinski Returns to Horror With A Cure for Wellness

February 21, 2017

Following 2002’s horror classic The Ring, director Gore Verbinski quickly founded himself as an action director, his works ranging from rousing successes (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) to dismal failures (The Lone Ranger). Verbinski’s latest release, A Cure for Wellness, sees the filmmaker venturing back to the horror genre. Unfortunately, it’s a disappointing return at best, and an unbearably bloated mess at worst.

The film follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an overly ambitious financial executive whose bosses send him to a wellness spa in the Swiss Alps, tasking him with locating the CEO of the company and bringing him back to New York. After a mysterious car crash, Lockhart finds himself held captive by the facility’s staff, namely their leader Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs). Experiencing one troubling vision after another, Lockhart soon begins to question the nature of the doctors’ so-called cure, leading him on a path of unimaginable horror.

As simple as the story may seem, Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe quickly find themselves lost in minutiae, the film’s 2.5 hour running time constantly noticeable, particularly throughout the painfully slow second act. While the film does attempt to raise questions about the at times crushing nature of modern life, Haythe and Verbinski never seem to know how to satisfyingly answer them, the script jumping back and forth between sides of the issue before settling with an ending that entirely contradicts all that’s come before it.

These flaws are occasionally forgiven simply due to the genuinely impressive originality of the film. Although certainly inspired by the films of David Cronenberg as well as Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, A Cure for Wellness manages to forge its own path with a ballsy visual style that expertly blends the grand guignol horror of the 1930s with the washed out style of modern gore fests. In fact, the film is, for the most part, aesthetically perfect. From the haunting long takes courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli to the consistently gripping sound design, A Cure for Wellness is a bona fide feast for the senses.

As technically efficient as the film is, however, it is almost entirely devoid of scares. While there’s plenty of disturbing imagery throughout, it’s just never all that frightening. This is especially true in the film’s third act, when Verbinski delivers one or ten too many twists, an unshakable sense of repetition dragging the final 30 minutes down.

A Cure for Wellness is thankfully propped up by the exceptional performances of its cast. DeHaan imbues his rigid lead with a heartbreaking weariness, turning in his best work since 2012’s Chronicle. Mia Goth is equally terrific in a revelatory performance as Hannah, the deeply troubled “special patient” of the clinic that quickly becomes embroiled in Lockhart’s search for the truth. Isaacs predictably steals the show, however, the veteran actor bringing an unbelievably raw intensity to the villainous but easily understandable Volmer.

 

The Verdict

Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a uniquely unsatisfying film, narratively distant and remarkably scareless. However, it’s also among the most beautiful horror films of the past two decades and an entirely original feature that deserves praise for its refusal to conform to any one style.

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