Gore Verbinski is one of the most visionary directors we have working today. His unique perspective and visual flare have become iconic staples of his work (such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, “The Ring” and “Rango”.) However, it’s been 3 years since his disastrous Disney outing with the financial flop “The Lone Ranger” and I honestly wasn’t sure when he was ever put anything new out. That changed when I started seeing trailers and TV ads for the bizarre marketing campaign surrounding this weird new surrealistic film called “A Cure for Wellness.” The grim and gloomy tone and look originally turned me off, but once I found out Gore Verbinski was handling this, I could not deny my interest was noticeably peeked.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is an ambitious young executive who wants to climb the corporate ladder to the top and prove he is capable of taking on big challenges. He gets it when the company sends him to Switzerland in order to bring back his company’s CEO from a strange, isolated wellness center; treating its patients so well they never want to leave. The deeper Lockhart digs into Dr. Volmer’s (Jason Isaacs) facility, the more disturbing and horrifying the truth becomes. Definitely veering off into more unusual territory for Verbinski, “A Cure for Wellness” is your typical “things aren’t what they seem” mystery thriller but packaged with Verbinski’s not so typical storytelling and distinct visuals and cinematography.
It’s a bleak, dreary, gloomy film that puts more effort into creating gorgeous camera shots of tunnels, mountain tops and creepy hallways than making compelling characters. That’s not to say anyone delivers a poor performance, it’s just Verbinski seems to rely more on mission driven characters and develop the mission rather than the person trying to complete said mission…and of course making it look surreal and creepy as all unholy Hell. If it seems like I am talking too much about the beautiful camera work and angles it’s because I am and it’s hard not to. Gore Verbinski is known for his indistinguishable flare for visuals. Whether it’s a man walking down a busy intersection or a dead girl crawling out of your TV screen, there’s something truly captivating about the way he frames his films.
Much of what builds “Cure for Wellness” is the growing mystery about what’s happening at this facility, throwing you off with creepy and unusual things like sequences of zombie like patients doing all their exercises in water and an unhealthy obsession for eels. DeHaan gives a commendable performance, slowly slipping into madness but struggling to hold onto the reality he desperately clings to and it shows in his acting. The problem is the character of Lockhart truly doesn’t have anything worth coming back to so he would want to escape this peculiar paradise. Everything and everyone is gloomy and complacent with the stagnant way of life they’re living and it makes it hard to want to see someone escape one dreary Hell just to slump back to another.
The lengthy running time at first worried me as there were several spots where the film looked like it could have ended but didn’t. Sometimes I felt things were taking too long to get to the point, but I was admittedly too invested in the mystery’s revelation to want to back out now. The final reveal is certainly going to divide audiences in my opinion. You’re either going to get it and run with it no matter how bizarre it may seem, or you’ll find it ludicrously absurd and far too farfetched to plausibly accept it as the endgame. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel or think towards this film, it has too many uneven odd areas that don’t seem to fit in or belong in a coherent structure.
Still, this is a decent comeback for Verbinski and similar to how I felt about Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” it’s not the best but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. “A Cure for Wellness” looks great but feels dreary and macabre. There are few good performers and even fewer characters with actual personalities or reasons why we should care about them. Still, it’s worth a look if not anything else to see just how weird and warped our concept of healing can appear.