To his credit, director Gore Verbinski has his fair share of blockbusters (a few installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), sublime successes (Rango), and disappointments (The Weather Man). Maybe it was his 2013 flop The Lone Ranger that kept him away from the Big Chair for a while. If he was hoping for a comeback in the form of A Cure for Wellness, we may not see anything from him again for another few years.
It’s not that his trademark style isn’t intact; it is. Wellness looks amazing, creepy from start to finish, and washed-out in sanitarium green throughout, with only a few stolen moments of color to offer hope amidst the despair. And things certainly started off well enough.
Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) plays Lockhart, a ladder-climbing wannabe who’s been caught crunching the company’s numbers to his advantage. Rather than prosecute him, his bosses blackmail him into retrieving their head-honcho Pembroke (Harry Groener) from his remote therapeutic retreat in the Swiss Alps. They mean to wrest control of the company from the ailing Pembroke, and also make him the fall guy for Lockharts’ misdeeds.
But shortly after finally arriving at the picturesque albeit secluded über-spa, things go awry for Lockhart. After being stonewalled regarding Pembroke’s release via administrator Volmer (Jason Isaacs), he meets a strange patient named Hannah (Mia Goth) who tells him that no ever leaves the institution. Sure enough, Lockhart survives a car accident on the way to the local hotel, his injuries being a one-way ticket back to the isolated resort.
Or was he ever really injured? It becomes hard to tell as the script twists and turns out of control, even for a head-trip into gas-lighting hell. Multiple left-field developments include a quest for eternal youth, kidnap and torture, incest, and gross-out sequences in place of real suspense. Unbelievable plot points lead to an extended third act that grows more absurd with each false ending, of which there are a few. Just when you think the movie is over, there’s one more scene that only serves to upend the sinister atmosphere realized in the first two acts, leaving what could have been a study in suspense a substandard and incoherent mess. Sadly, these multiple finales culminate in a laughable closing action sequence. It’s all such a shame since Verbinski certainly knows what he’s doing; he just didn’t know when to stop.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Writing Credits: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Justin Haythe (story by) & Gore Verbinski (story by)
TRT: 2hrs 26mins
Rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, language, and being a half-hour too long