18 – 146mins – 2017
EELS ON FIRE
After transforming into the sickly Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Dane DeHaan once again plays a strong-minded and cock-sure twenty-something whose health deteriorates before our eyes in an overlong and overcomplicated genre piece. Wearing its multitude of influences brazenly on its sleeve, A Cure for Wellness marks Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski’s first foray into horror since 2002’s The Ring remake.
With a story co-conceived by the man who called the shots on Disney’s The Lone Ranger, Wellness is scripted by Justin Haythe, who also had a hand in rewriting the 2013 Johnny Depp/Armie Hammer Western flop. But despite retaining Ranger’s bladder-testing duration, Verbinski and Haythe’s epic psychological creepshow switches the dominant aesthetic from sandy plains to snowy mountains.
DeHaan plays morally ambiguous but success-driven fledging executive Lockhart, whose questionable business dealings see him tasked by his NYC firm’s Board to travel to a wellness centre in the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company’s recuperating CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), whose signature they desperately require to sign off on an imminent merger.
Lockhart initially sees the directive as a spurious necessity, a vacation he can ill afford. But upon arriving at the mountain-top sanatorium, he immediately senses that all is not as it seems… Villagers fear the mysterious institute with its notoriously murky history; staff are clinically resistant to comply with Lockhart’s rational requests; patients – among them Celia Imrie and captivating outcast Mia Goth – claim no-one ever leaves; head doctor Heinrich Volmer (Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs) sips a strange fluid from a cobalt bottle…
With a car crash finding Lockhart in plaster and in need of recuperation at the facility, the obscurities amass into an unsettling and sanity-testing mystery which make him ever-more desperate to leave. But where is Pembroke? Why do gurneys keep being wheeled out to the aqueduct? And why does the watery ‘cure’ everyone is so desperate to ingest seem to be making him sicker than when he arrived?
Beginning by mimicking the apprehensive sense of unwelcome alienation Johnathan Harker experienced when journeying to the Count’s intimidating Transylvanian abode in Dracula, Verbinski then incorporates themes and tones found in The Stepford Wives, German novel The Magic Mountain and numerous Twilight Zone episodes once Lockhart settles into the spooky spa. When the big questions are (eventually) answered, Wellness shifts inspiration yet again by riffing heavily on gothic staples such as Frankenstein and Phantom of the Opera.
Unnerving throughout and never less than curious, A Cure for Wellness perhaps suffers from being too ambitious, convoluting its impact with too many twists, turns, riffs and refrains. Nevertheless, Verbinski impresses with a consistent, stylish and eerie – if hardly original – old school horror pastiche. No spoilers here but after long periods where I questioned the maximum age certificate from the BBFC, prepare for some serious seat-squirming during the jaw-dropping final third…
CR@B’s Claw Score: