Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness clocks in at a running time of 146 minutes, and features incest, graphic tooth extractions, naked old people, creepy masquerades, a villainous Jason Isaacs, borderline cannibalism, a creepy setting with a violent backstory, malicious eels, and a tortured Dane DeHaan at the center of it all. It’s bloated and excessive, but entertainingly nihilistic and never boring. It so enthusiastically throws everything at the screen that even the things that don’t stick are somehow just as fun to watch as the things that do. Add Verbinski’s eerie style into the mix, and you have a bloated yet consistently entertaining thriller that somehow was funded by a major studio.
Dane DeHaan has always seemed like the perfect person to play a man on the brink of insanity. He’s gotten to teeter close to it in previous roles, but here he gets to become completely unhinged, and he does so with flying colors. DeHaan plays Lockhart, an overworked businessman sent by his firm to a mysterious medical facility in the Swiss alps to retrieve an employee who can help hide inconsistencies in the firm’s books and thus make for a successful merger with another big corporation. Lockhart shows up at the facility, but finds it increasingly difficult to leave, even after he’s found the man he went there to retrieve.
It should come as no surprise at all to anyone who has ever seen a movie that things quickly go from creepy to perverse, though some may be taken aback (in my case, gleefully so) by to what dark and insidious depths A Cure for Wellness sinks. Much like Mia Wasikowska’s character in Crimson Peak, the film requires its protagonist to blindly accept everything at face value and ignore blatant warning signs that it might be a good idea to leave. A Cure for Wellness finds Lockhart rarely questioning his surroundings, and his dedication to his mission, meant to reflect the film’s condemnation of capitalism, never really works and ultimately undercuts the film by the time its credits roll. Furthermore, its broad condemnation of capitalism doesn’t really feel as current in today’s climate, but then again the entire movie feels like a fun throwback to a genre of days past.
All that being said, if you purchase a ticket next week for A Cure for Wellness intending to nitpick its plot, spend your money on something else. The screenplay is credited solely to Justin Haythe, and while his frenetic manner of storytelling didn’t really work out for him in The Lone Ranger, it feels perfectly suited for this material. In stark contrast to that 2013 film, everything in A Cure for Wellness feels like it belongs there. A Cure for Wellness features sequence after sequence of eerie, excellently rendered gothic creepiness, with just enough plot and performances mixed in to keep you wondering what will happen next.
In a way, this feels like a film that Gore Verbinski has been working toward for the better part of his career. It doesn’t have the grand scale that any of his Pirates movies do, but Verbinski wrings so much character from his location that it feels just as grand. He isn’t stuck with having to honor any source material like he had to in The Ring; instead, he pulls from whatever source he wants and makes it entirely his own. He isn’t burdened with walking a line between creepy subversiveness and family entertainment like he was in Rango; in A Cure for Wellness, he can be as inflammatory as he wants. Even The Lone Ranger felt like it wanted to be something darker, but whatever vision Verbinski was trying to accomplish was ultimately drowned out by the fact that Disney had slapped its name on it.
There were always hints of this movie in his previous films, but this is the first time Gore Verbinski has appeared truly unfettered by any of his previous restraints. And although the movie doesn’t always work and wears its influences rather shamelessly on its sleeve, A Cure for Wellness feels wholly original, deliciously demented, and effortlessly macabre. It’s insane that we get a movie like this from a major studio. It’s even more insane that it’s quite enjoyable.
A Cure for Wellness features sequence after sequence of eerie, excellently rendered gothic creepiness, with just enough plot and performances mixed in to keep you wondering what will happen next.