If you’ve had no previous encounters with any type of phobia, A Cure for Wellness could very well just cure that for you: it sits you in the dentist chair and gives you an oral examination from your worst nightmares. To top that off, it will submerge you in a vat of man-eating eels just for good measure. Run for your life.
Actor Dane DeHaan - looking like, with a bucket load of the same mannerisms, a very young Leonardo DiCaprio - plays Lockhart; an abhorrent, scrupulous Wall Street suit, under pressure to the point of blackmail from his equally horrendous bosses at his firm to take a trip to the Swiss Alps to bring back the company’s CEO from a wellness spa in order to complete the company’s big money merger. On his arrival, he encounters the robotic-like nurses in the room altering maze of a building where its wealthy inhabitants are in their twilight and under a haze of hypnotic restfulness. After meeting with the courteous head doctor Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and the resident freaky young women, Hannah (Mia Goth), who states: “No one ever leaves,” Lockhart knows something is a bit off.
Through the many mysterious plot twists and turns, Lockhart finds himself transformed from visitor to unwilling patient as he tries to find and bring home his CEO. Everyone is encouraged to drink as much of the ‘life-preserving’ water as possible which, along with their treatment, detoxifies and purifies their bodies. Suspicious from the moment he steps into the wellness centre, Lockhart - dealing with his own traumatic childhood which comes to the fore in his dreams - endures many nauseating treatments to cure him of his sickness as he tries to unravel the truth of what is really happening. Lockhart and his fellow inhabitants’ story culminate in the last third of the film which spirals out of control into the shallows of a watery death with a weak trajectory of epic proportions.
Writer/Director Gore Verbinski has a number of eclectic projects under his belt - from Pirates of the Caribbean to Rango and The Ring - but in A Cure for Wellness, the shackles have come off and he has been allowed to roam wild and eccentrically for this a cross between The Shining and Shutter Island.
Verbinski mesmerises the visual senses with the cold grey mountainous setting of the wellness centre in the heart of the idyllic Alps and pairs it with a psychological horror plot narrative which screams of total insanity - a number of scenes overstep the verge of ridiculousness.
The film is far from condemnable even with a fair bit of film snobbery surrounding the project, with its completely insane plot and moments of obtuse ridiculousness, especially in its eyebrow-raising ending and a painstaking two and a half hour running time. Verbinski has created a piece of stunning cinema which explodes with horrific originality and keeps the gaze of the audience fully enticed. Flawed but audaciously entertaining.