When is the last time you saw a big budget film that took a risk? I’m not talking about a small art house indie; I’m talking about a film released by a major a studio. How often do you sit down to watch a big studio picture that isn’t adapted from a comic book, or a video game, or a board game, or a meme, or a toy, or…you get the picture. Not very often. Studios don’t like to take a lot of risks these days, because risks are costly, and films are costly enough on their own. You’re much more likely to get a return on your investment if the film is a recognizable property, or “brand’ (shudders).
Which is why Gore Verbinski’s absolutely bonkers A Cure For Wellness is such a cinematic miracle. The film was an American-German production distributed through 20th Century Fox, and just how Verbinski convinced Fox to release this movie is anyone’s guess. Perhaps those Pirates of the Caribbean movies he directed really carry that much weight. No matter. Whatever dark alchemy Verbinski worked to get this film released, we should celebrate him for it. Here is something almost unheard of: a 146-minute horror show with bold ideas backed up by big money. This is a singularly strange, wholly original movie that shocks and awes. It doesn’t all work, and that whopping runtime might try the patience of many, but it cannot be denied that this is bold filmmaking, and we could all do with a bit more boldness.
Told in stunning visuals courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, A Cure For Wellness holds a funhouse mirror up to the world and asks us if we like what we see. This film is in turns gorgeous and repulsive; it entices as much as it disgusts. Dane DeHaan is Lockhart, a young executive who has clawed his way to the top of his company. When we first glimpse Lockhart, he’s popping nicotine gum while balancing a heavy workload; his eyes have bags under them, his skin is pallid. He looks like a corpse that hasn’t realized it’s dead yet. Lockhart’s superiors, a ghastly bunch indeed, pressure him into going after the company’s CEO, who has absconded to a mysterious health spa somewhere in the Swiss Alps. Lockhart ventures forth to the spa, which turns out to be a sprawling gothic castle perched on a mountaintop. There, he finds the staff of nurses, doctors and orderlies, as well as the patients, to be rather peculiar. He’s denied an audience with the missing CEO, and decides to head back down the mountain. But a deer darting out into the road causes Lockhart’s car to suffer a shocking crash, and Lockhart wakes up back in the spa, his leg encased in a cast.
From here, A Cure For Wellness goes off in every which direction possible. It is a film as labyrinthine as the eerie castle it’s set in, and you may find yourself needing a chart to keep track of everything that’s going on. Lockhart interacts with the mysterious chief-of-staff Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaac), as well as the ghostly Hannah (Mia Goth), a “very special” patient who seems to hover on the fringes of things. Through it all, DeHaan is put through the ringer, up against all forms of goo, eels and other unpleasantness. Make no mistake: this is an icky film. But it’s also a film that astonishes, mostly for its raw audacity. You sit and watch A Cure For Wellness with a question on your lips, and the question is this: “How does this movie exist?”
A Cure For Wellness underperformed at the box office, and critics weren’t very kind to it. But damn it, this is the type of movie we should be embracing, warts and all. I would rather watch ten more movies like A Cure For Wellness than another piece of rot like the recent big, dumb reboot of The Mummy. So here’s to you, A Cure For Wellness. Here’s to your beauty and your horror; here’s to your big ideas, many of which are quite silly, none of which are uninteresting. Here’s to you, Dane DeHaan, for sitting with your head in a dental torture device. Here’s to you, Mia Goth, for climbing into a bathtub full of eels. And here’s to you, Gore Verbinski, for being crazy enough to make a film like this.
Blu-ray Special Features
Deleted Sequence: ‘It’s Wonderful Here’
Water is the Cure
Air is the Cure
Earth is the Cure