Movie Review: ‘A Cure for Wellness’

You know, something interesting happened during A Cure for Wellness: These theater employees—maybe security, maybe regular ol’ concession grunts, I don’t know—would show up every twenty or so minutes and walk through the aisles to a door located near the screen. All the while, a red, lightsaber-looking flashlight dangled from their side pocket. After one would walk by, sure enough, within twenty minutes, here comes a different employee, walking the same beat, red flashlight swinging all the way to the door that led to what I assume was a secret room. What were they doing up there? Was there a staff party during this screening of A Cure for Wellness? And why make those flashlights neon red? It’s so fucking distracting.

Wait, I haven’t even gotten to the craziest thing about seeing A Cure for Wellness. Before the movie began, I bought medium-sized popcorn and, when I tell you they filled this bag until it was overflowing, shit, that barely covers it. I was spilling it everywhere! On the concession counter, in the aisles, on the ten-foot-tall Boss Baby starring Alec Baldwin display—What a crazy time! Okay, hope this review helps!

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Wait, something’s coming back to me… For about two and a half hours (!!!) something was projected on that big screen in there… Oh, dagnabbit, Nate, ya old twat, you forgot! I actually watched Gore Verbisnki’s newest movie, A Cure for Wellness, an interesting premise for a thriller that goes off the rails within minutes. I didn’t hate this movie outright, but I was pretty bored while it was happening.

Wellness follows young, upstart Wall Street trader, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), as he goes in search for an estranged CEO (Harry Groener), who mysteriously refuses to leave a spa in the Swiss Alps. When Lockhart arrives, he finds his quarry unwilling to cooperate and becomes embroiled in the ever-deepening enigma of the spa and its shadowy proprietor, Dr. Volmer (played by Jason Isaacs). The resulting drama plays out in a series of unmotivated scenarios to bring the movie to a screeching halt at its unsatisfying conclusion. It’s clear from the start that Verbinsky (who also co-wrote) was determined to make his speculative thriller, no matter if his story actually was one or not.

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Wellness starts on solid footing. The weirdness that keeps baiting Lockhart deeper into the mysterious spa is paced out well, in the beginning, and enough exposition is given that sets him up as a relatable, if slightly douche-y (perhaps because of DeHann’s performance) main character. This doesn’t last, though, and Cure quickly slides down the rabbit hole that most mysteries lose themselves in: being mysterious for the sake of being mysterious.

A good mystery is always circular: it starts with a question, takes you around the arc of the plot, adding some interesting elements, and ends where you started, that question (and subsequent ones) answered. Wellness plays like an erratic zig-zagged line (possibly drawn with an orange crayon); it zigs and zags upward and downward, making ever deeper cuts into the page. These erratic stalagmites, new developments that try to up the “mystery” ante, eventually become overused tropes. It all leads to laughable moments. Gaslighting the main character, a conspiracy that includes the local police… there’s even an out-of-place scene with robed figures, pacing around like a cult. It made me wonder if they had switched the reels on us up in the booth. Alas, this wasn’t the case—we were still in the world of Wellness. The most laughable moment for me was early on (probably only an hour in), and was teased in the trailers heavily. An older woman patient goes up to Lockhart and warns him ominously, “There’s a great darkness here.” Lockhart turns to see a twenty-something orderly glaring at him menacingly. It’s all so ridiculous and unmotivated that I had to roll my eyes.

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At this point, no doubt, you’re wondering, “Hey! What about those cool eels that were so prevalent in the trailers???” Let me put that to rest. I can assure you, their flimsy backstory isn’t worth the price of admission. Though they look cool, and they intrinsically interesting in a “WTF is that” type of way, when the answer is finally given, an exhausting two hours into this thing, you’ll be disappointed.

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like things about this movie. For one, I really loved the cinematography. The shots are well composed, often around a visual theme (there seems to be a fascination with stuffed deer heads) and the mountainous location provides some breathtaking views. The color worked for me, too, washed out with a blue tinge that gave it an antique feel.

Additionally, the art design is great. Set in a Swiss castle, ancient crumbling walls mingle with hundred-year-old copper tubs and torturous rubber hosing inspired by the frightening world of Nineteenth Century “quack medicine.” In the spa’s sterile, white tiled halls, Lockhart runs into all sorts of creepy hydro-therapy devices, canvas and glass steam chambers, and, in one of the most memorable parts of the movie, a gigantic sensory deprivation chamber of a crumbling iron casting. These visuals are all neat, and while the confusing narrative falls short, the various torture devices placed around the spa will at least keep you going with consistently cool things to look at.

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The performances are fine enough, not that any of the actors had much to work with (“Act confused,” I imagine Verbinski telling them over and over again). British John Hamm impersonator, Jason Isaacs, does an admirable job playing the film’s antagonist as the script has him inconsistently running after Lockhart, chastising him menacingly, or peering from windows creepily, or, even, just being a nice guy at a dinner party. Mia Goth took time out from the tabloids to play a young female patient, who wanders the in a constant state of aloof-ness. Even when the shit hits the fan and she becomes the victim of Wellness’s narrative and its crescendoing attempts to be mysterious, she wanders around in a daze. I was waiting for her to scream at someone, to truly lose her shit but, though she gets to be the vehicle for the film’s climactic ending, she still delivers her lines like a confused child. DeHaan is fine, I guess.

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If Wellness was an hour shorter (again, this thing is like two and a half hours!), it’d be a lot easier to recommend. And, even then, it would be in the rainy day, take a look at some cool sets type of way. At this point you should skip. Its trailers might bait you with promises of a mystery that seems appealing but, I promise you, leaving the theater you’ll be confused and unfulfilled.

-Nate

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