Gore Verbinski would love nothing more than to wriggle his eel-stuffed psychological horror film into your subconscious this February. After a big blow at the box office with The Lone Ranger, the Pirates of the Caribbean director retreated into the Swiss Alps as if he were Frankenstein’s monster in an attempt to rekindle the success from his massive horror hit, The Ring. With writer Justin Haythe (The Lone Ranger, Revolutionary Road), he created a mess of a gothic film that pulls from familiar elements like Hammer horror to Scorsese’s Shutter Island.
A Cure for Wellness is not the kind of movie that’s so wacky it’s good, though. It’s the kind of movie that has wacky moments weaved in with an abundance of monotonous ones. This boils down to problems with the characterization of the film’s leading man, Lockhart (played by Dane DeHaan). A business man, Lockhart gets sent to an ominous Swiss sanitarium to retrieve one of his coworkers who has, for better or for worse, gone loopy up in the mountains. This unfortunately leads to Lockhart getting kept at the sanitarium against his will (aside from breaking his leg, he also unknowingly signed a document checking himself in), and thus our mystery unveils.
Rather, at least it tries to. While the elements are easy enough for an audience to pick up on within the first 30 minutes, Lockhart doesn’t seem to piece the puzzle together. This is frustrating and, quite frankly, dull to watch for two hours. Furthermore, it leads to clunky characterization for our protagonist. DeHaan is presented as an intelligent business man who has worked his way up through a glittering New York company, and yet he cannot solve the mystery of this sanitarium. Is he going mad himself? Has American business culture really made Lockhart unwell? Yes, for brief moments, and only when Haythe’s screenplay needs him to go mad to stall the story so Verbinski can work in some visual trickery.
Re-teaming with The Ring’s cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, Verbinski grasps at straws, trying to regenerate new success from old. The film recalls the duo’s previous work, trying to twist the familiar into gut-wrenching visceral horror. However, with The Ring they were lucky to have been gifted great source material, and all they had to do was stylishly work it into the American psyche by pumping up the body horror and jump scares. A Cure for Wellness doesn’t have the same luck. Slithering eels and bloated bodies in sensory deprivation tanks litter the film, but with no added depth. This creates an empty atmosphere with no immediate terror, and thus the film winds up trite and tired.
Perhaps if A Cure for Wellness was an 80-minute feature, it would have had more punch and the goofy moments would have been lively and entertaining. The final result is frustrating and snooze-inducing. It’s clear with this film that Gore Verbinski is only visually familiar with horror, and doesn’t know how to construct a robust, original idea. Graphic periods, toothless grins, and white coats are all creepy elements, if you know what to do with them. In this case, Verbinski throws these elements at a wall hoping they’ll stick, but boy, do they flop.
Some stray thoughts:
- Mia Goth, how did your character put on that lipstick so perfectly the first time around?
- Can someone tell me what exactly the eels even did?
- This would have been better as a Swamp Thing reboot, probably.
- If you like the cool grey/blue aesthetic and the squirmy water creatures, do yourself a favor and watch Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Evolution instead.
Categories: New Releases