We’re about 20 minutes into the marathon psychological thriller A Cure for Wellness when the young protagonist wakes up in a health spa with a broken leg after a car accident. How long was he out for? Three days, he is told.
More than two hours later, when the film finally ends, I know just how that guy feels.
It’s not that Gore Verbinski’s endurance test is a total snoozer. It’s not that the film is much, much longer than it needs to be. And it’s not even that the payoff is nowhere near worth the audience’s investment. The problem is that somewhere around the middle of the film, one begins to realize it probably isn’t going any place worthwhile.
So, vacant and vaguely confused expectations. Like the protagonist with his leg in a cast, one is stuck in a disorienting place, not sure when he can leave. To appropriate a line from critic Roger Ebert, watching A Cure for Wellness is like waiting for the bus in a city where you’re not even sure they have a bus line.
Which is all a shame, because A Cure for Wellness looks gorgeous and carries intriguing messages. It also offers (intentionally or not) a creepy Trumpian parallel that I won’t ruin by divulging.
The foreboding, overwrought epic stars Dane DeHaan, the young American who captured my imagination as James Dean in 2015’s Life. Here, he’s an up-and-coming Wall Streeter who’s tasked with retrieving his company’s wayward CEO from a “wellness centre” in the Swiss Alps. A massive merger is at stake, and time is of the essence.
The problem is, at the tranquil sanitarium, time stands still and none of the “patients” particularly want to leave. Written by the adventurous Justin Haythe – his diverse credits include The Clearing, Revolutionary Road and The Lone Ranger – the story’s thrust revolves around one line, “Only when we know what ails us can we find the cure.”
It’s a comment on contemporary society and misplaced priorities. We’re sick and we don’t even know it. The “cure,” if we can call it that, involves the distilling of humanity’s pure essence.
Also, eels are involved. We know director Verbinski from The Ring and the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but he’s a bit out of his Depp here. There’s a touch of Frankenstein (with brooding townspeople suspicious of what’s happening at the top of the hill). Perhaps Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was an inspiration. And, watching the mostly elderly patients playing croquet and badminton in a luxurious alpine setting, it’s easy to think of Paolo Sorrentino’s beautiful Youth from 2015.
Or maybe Verbinski is simply a fan of garish sixties horror. At one point, when a character’s wax face melts away, I half expected Vincent Price to be revealed.
The plot involves DeHaan’s perplexed character trying to figure out the diabolical puzzle of the place. A young patient (Mia Goth) is weird and weirdly out of place, and probably needs saving.
Jason Isaacs plays the facility director, Dr. Heinreich Volmer. He’s calmly assuring, in a white-smock-wearing way that clearly indicates he’s not to be trusted at all. I mean, he’s Dr. Heinreich Volmer, for God’s sake.
Also, as mentioned, there are eels.
I won’t give away the film’s ending – not because it would be wrong to do, but because I have no idea what happened. As for “only when we know what ails us can we find the cure,” this is a film desperately searching for something to resolve.Report Typo/Error