It’s very rare for a film to fail at everything it’s trying to accomplish within the first ten minutes. So the fact that Gore Verbinski (returning to his roots a while after his effective American remake of The Ring) does this so spectacularly with his new psychological horror A Cure for Wellness is something of an achievement. That’s the last time I will say anything positive about this movie, though, so you have been warned.
The film sees Dane Dehaan (good in other films but hopelessly miscast here as a sneering, cynical stockbroker) sent on a mission to retrieve the CEO of his company from a spa retreat at the foot of the Swiss Alps. But wouldn’t you know, he somehow finds himself unable to leave and things take a sinister turn when he encounters Mia Goth, wasted in the one-dimensional part of a creepy barefoot girl with “issues”. He gets experimented on by Jason Isaacs, and Celia Imrie hovers around being a sweet old lady in the background for no reason.
You may be surprised to learn that this film is all style and no substance, despite the screenplay’s best efforts to inject some ominous meaning into the situation by getting all the characters to intone pretentious twaddle every five minutes. The trailer is admittedly one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, which makes the fact that you see all of that cool stuff from the trailer within the first half an hour of the film (the mirrored train! the eels in the bathtub! the dramatic car accident!) all the more of a crushing disappointment. This is a movie that will make you laugh in all the wrong places, that can’t trust its audience to deal with anything less subtle than a thousand close-ups of people’s eyes and a constant soundtrack of dripping water. We are expected to be scared of water, of all things. But that’s where A Cure for Wellness fails most horrible – it isn’t scary. Not even remotely. Because everything is signposted and foreshadowed and spelt out for you until there’s nothing left but over-the-top acting and lines that sound like something from a bad self-help book.
We don’t like any of the characters, least of all the protagonist who I was actively willing bad things to happen to from the outset, and Verbinski seems to be hung up on the unoriginal idea that money is the root of all evil – oh, when they say “wellness” they actually mean “wealth and privilege.” Knock me down with a feather.
Now, admittedly the whole thing looks amazing and has clearly had lots of money spent on it. What a shame to waste buckets of money on a film that tries to teach us that money causes mental illness. It is just laughable and impossible to take seriously. I also have no idea who the intended audience for the film is. Horror fans will be bored and just end up sniggering at the lack of anything scary, and the uncanny resemblance to a terrible version of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Shutter Island. If it’s a pastiche along the lines of a modern day Hammer Horror, it never goes far enough to actually count as a comedy – one line in particular near the start of the film regarding potential events in prison stands out as being one of the crassest, most unnecessary things I have ever heard in a film presumably meant to be enjoyed by adults.
Please don’t watch this – save yourselves from the spooky spa of doom.
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