Review: Creepy, Overlong 'Wellness' Doesn't Cure All
Here’s what happens when a commercially successful director is given a modest budget and free reign to deliver whatever their heart desires: A Cure for Wellness is a nice little callback to the Euro-Gothic thrillers of yesteryear... that runs for the insane length of 143 minutes.
Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies and whose best live-action feature might be 1997’s Mousehunt, seemed to fall from grace after his Lone Ranger reboot landed in cinemas with a thud back in 2013.
And A Cure for Wellness is, apparently, his passion project. A most unusual choice.
Still, the film reels us in right from the beginning with its gorgeous visuals: whether he’s shooting an empty office or a gothic castle or a glass of water, Verbinski has a wonderful knack for making the uninteresting interesting with unusual shot choices and framing.
This is a great-looking film, no question, and rivals Tim Burton’s latest, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, in pretty-as-a-picture detail (credit, too, should go to cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who also lensed The Lone Ranger and The Ring for the director.)
And the story is enough to keep us awake. For a while, at least.
All-work-and-no-play Wall Street up-and-comer Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is sent by his firm to a health spa in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his boss, and bring him back to New York to take the fall for some financial misdoings.
But waitaminute… this is no health spa!
Lockhart soon finds himself in the midst of horror as he encounters slithery eels, unnecessary dental work, pointless backstories, and lots of wrinkled, naked, old people flesh.
There’s the mad doctor, of course, played by Jason Isaacs, who becomes Lockhart’s physician after a nasty automobile accident and slowly reveals his dastardly plan, implied by the title of the movie, which I still don't fully comprehend.
And his ‘daughter’, played by Mia Goth, the only person near Lockhart’s age in the film, which is enough for a romantic subplot. Goth is 23, but looks significantly younger, and is referred to as a child throughout the film. Her relationship with DeHaan’s businessman is awkward, to put it mildly.
Some of A Cure for Wellness is gothic and eerie, and other portions are gruesomely effective, and the Grand Guignol finish will reward anyone who’s still paying attention. At the very least, the film has some of the elements of the kind of daring horror movies Hollywood doesn’t make any more.
But there’s 90 minutes of material in the movie, max. As the film crawls towards its perfunctory conclusion, we pray the director gets some more significant material next time out, or develops a lot more restraint.