A Cure for Wellness [Review by SpecialK]
I’m almost positive that A Cure for Wellness isn’t intended to be a spoof of the entire genre of psychological thrillers. Almost. From beginning (a Michael Clayton-like opening monologue offers some biting commentary on the Mouse Trap board game that is Wall Street while scenes of sterile, gray high-rises slide by), to middle (a bright and airy Shutter Island-brand old timey mental institution spa retreat is inexplicably stuck in the middle of the 20th century), to end (a Phantom of the Opera-style candlelit lair sets the stage for the climax of a castle-on-a-hilltop-versus-villagers folktale), the film draws from any and every psychological thriller in existence.
The story is simple enough at first. A greedy New York financial services firm’s future is on the line, and a young rising star—Lockhart—has been tasked with saving the company by traveling to the Swiss Alps to pick up the CEO where he has been hiding out at a spa retreat. Come on, what young corporate associate hasn’t been there, amirite? If I had a nickel. . .
But it gets even weirder. Lockhart’s car crashes on the mountain road, and he wakes up at the retreat, now a patient himself and unable to escape. While he recuperates, he tries to figure out exactly what is going on at this place, and what this “cure” is everyone is talking about. He also learns about the building’s history—a rich baron sought to make a bride out of his sister in his hilltop castle, but the villagers wouldn’t allow it and burned everything down—you know, kind of like Jane Eyre . . . but with incest. Yeah actually, nothing like Jane Eyre.
Meanwhile, Lockhart is desperately trying to find the missing CEO, but pretty much every obstacle gets thrown in his way. Literally, every ostacle imaginable without rhyme or reason: the institution’s lead doc played by villain extraordinaire Jason Isaacs; some barfly teens straight out of a 1980s Europop band who are ready for a fistfight; a veterinarian elbow-deep in blood who is pulled straight out of a slasher film; a weirdly childlike damsel in distress; tiled mazes of hospital hallways; skin-crawling “spa treatments” involving swarms of eels; a shovel-wielding groundkeeper; rotting teeth; crutches; a ballroom full of swirling, robed dancers in a weird homage to both Pride and Prejudice and Eyes Wide Shut—and if you think I’m giving away too much here, fear not, dear reader, this is but a sliver. Anyway, I think you get the point.
Perhaps this random mishmash of a film should be expected from Director Gore Verbinski, whose schizophrenic filmography includes the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Rango, and The Ring. And while A Cure for Wellness is a bit of an arbitrary mess, it isn’t without its own glints of mastery. Although not a true horror film by any means, it presents a satisfying array of eerie scenes plucked from our most commonly-shared nightmares, like pulling out your own rotting teeth, swimming in a dark pool of eels, and wondering if you’ve lost your mind. And there are some innovative underlying themes that I haven’t seen tried in a horror film—like what “wellness” truly means in today’s corporate, driven America. Plus, could I really be that harsh on a film that generously offers me a healthy dose of breathtaking shots of the Alps? Unfortunately, yes. Yes I could.
SpecialK Verdict: Perhaps if Director Gore Verbinski had picked just one theme or one eerie backstory, I could have more comfortably endured the two-and-a-half-hour parade of ridiculousness, but in the end, A Cure for Wellness is just simply too much, too laughably random, and not nearly scary enough.
A Cure for Wellness opened February 17.
Never miss a review — sign up for email updates to the right, or like The Parsing Haus on Facebook.