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Looming skyscrapers stand menacingly against a strangely green-hued sky, a train veers around a Swiss mountainside, dizzying the viewer with its reflective camerawork, a freshly hit stag writhes in the road, kicking against the last vestiges of life. There are moments of staggering beauty in Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, it’s just a shame they’re interspersed throughout two hours of thuddingly dull narrative.
Beginning as a seen-it-all-before social commentary on the human rat race, we’re privy to a boardroom meeting in which Dane DeHaan’s super salesman, Lockhart, has been caught fiddling the numbers in order to speed up his ascension to the top. He is given the choice to face the career ruining consequences, or travel to Switzerland in order to retrieve the company’s absent CEO from a mysterious spa at the top of the Alps. Lockhart is young, ambitious, and smug, so he opts to undertake the seemingly innocuous mission, but soon realises that things aren’t as idyllic as they seem for the residents of the institution.
Part Shutter Island, part The Shining, part Jane Eyre, part The Phantom of the Opera. You could play derivation bingo with the influences on show in A Cure for Wellness. And that isn’t always a bad thing if the whole that they form is something entertaining, but this is drip fed to the point of being as sterile as the walls in which DeHaan finds himself wandering. A tighter edit would have provided more momentum, and maybe we could have snipped out one-or-two of our protagonists Scooby Doo investigations, which become repetitive after a while.
Not enough work is done establishing who Lockhart is, so why should we care about him? We’re quick to establish that he’s a bit of a jerk, in the way he speaks to a train conductor, but after that we have a couple of daddy issue flashbacks and very little else in terms of background. What is at stake for him beyond a pressed suit and corner office in a high rise?
DeHaan is perfectly suited to playing a man walking the line of sanity, it’s why his Green Goblin was one of the better things about The Amazing Spider-Man, but here he is asked to just meander wide-eyed as Verbinski puts him through a series of strange experiments. More effective, and one of the only reasons that your interest will pique from the cinematic coma the plot might have induced, is Mia Goth. She is like a Tim Burton stop-motion come to life; all tilted head, haunting humming, and distant stares. Her hypnotic appearance works wonderfully in tandem Verbinski’s impressive visuals.
Special mention must go to Jason Issacs, as the creepy doctor in charge of the facility, he appears to have honed the duplicitous medical man routine after impressing in Netflix drama, The OA. His dental skills almost rival Laurence Olivier’s from Marathon Man. Be warned.
Image: 20th Century Fox
What is undeniable about A Cure for Wellness, is how brilliantly insane the finale is. It almost makes the film worth watching just to witness its vaudevillian ludicrousness. Unintentional laughter, hammy acting, wince inducing violence, uncorked with a theatrical flourish. It’s admirable, but you wonder, in a film in which the patients are supposedly drinking contaminated water, did Verbinski swallow too much at sea, because for a big budget studio film, it’s bonkers.