Eels well that ends well.
“A Cure for Wellness” is the latest film from Gore Verbinski, who has delivered an entertainingly mixed bag of movie goodies over the years from the original (western) version of “The Ring”through three of the first five “Pirates of the Caribbean” films (for the love of God, please STOP!) to 2013’s entertaining if bonkers reworking of “The Lone Ranger”. Here he is returning to more of the psychological horror of “The Ring” but well mixed with a spoonful of Hitchcockian ‘Jimmy Stewart, man out of place’ intrigue and a heavy dose of baroque Hammer Horror over-indulgence.
Dane DeHaan – Harry Osborn in the Andrew Garfield “Spiderman” reboot – is a work obsessed investment banker called Lockhart who is coerced by his board into travelling to Switzerland to bring back a senior board member – Pembroke played by Harry Groener – who is a lynchpin in a major merger deal. Pembroke is attending a castle retreat for recuperation but the idyllic rest-home cum spa is not all that it seems to be. As well as having a tragic history, none of the guests ever seem to want to leave it and the villagers are openly hostile to the staff (think “Beauty and the Beast” pitchfork -wielding mode).
Lockhart doesn’t in fact spend the 30 minutes he originally intends to at the castle but much longer, for reasons that are deer to my hart (#dreadfulplayonwords). While there, Lockhart meets the mysterious and waif-like teenager Hannah (the appropriately named Mia Goth, actually aged 24) who is described by the institution’s director (Harry Potter’s Jason Isaacs) as “special”.
Who is she? What is going on? Where does the creepy gardener/porter go with a trolley each night?
I must admit a certain amount of chill runs through my body when I sit in a (UK) cinema and see the big red “18” certificate logo appear. I personally find most “15” certificate films quickly reach, and often exceed, my tolerance for acceptable levels of screen violence. However, this was a film where the horror was more at a psychological level rather than a physical level: I think it primarily earned its “18” certificate for a disturbing scene of rape / attempted rape (we could argue the semantics) that is singularly unpleasant. Here again though, I was more disturbed by the context of the act than what actually gets shown.
Cinematically the film has some beautifully rendered moments (by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, a regular Verbinski collaborator): one of the early scenes of a train rushing in mirrored glory through the Swiss Alps (see below) is just gorgeous. Elsewhere, there are numerous staged shots that again reflect Hitchcock influences, although the mother peering through the magnifying glass unfortunately reminded me strongly of Peter Cushing’s hilarious cameo in the Zucker brother’s spoof Hitchcockian war film “Top Secret”!
The script by Justin Haythe (“Revolutionary Road”, “The Lone Ranger”) postulates a clever sub-text to the film: that, as human mice running on the wheel of employment, we are all desperately sick and should be seeking a cure. The fact that the cure is not what it seems is secondary to that message. Haythe’s script works successfully in building the tension, helped by an annoyingly catchy music-box melody by composer Benjamin Wallfisch. The action reaches a moment of bleak despair as our hero sits with Hannah by a pool overlooking a spectacular Swiss sunset. “Great…” I thought “… a nicely cryptic and non-Hollywood ending”. Unfortunately the moment passes, and the film then descends into a rather torrid and silly final act that pisses away much of my goodwill towards the film (and Fads with it). This also results in the film – at 146 minutes – being about 20 to 30 minutes too long, and a much tighter treatment could have elevated this to a potential classic.
DeHaan equips himself well in the lead role, and his striking visual appearance is well used. He reminded me strongly at times of the test-tube love-child of a young DiCaprio and Benicio Del Toro, if you can genetically imagine such a thing! Also making a welcome appearance is Celia Imrie as a puzzle-fanatic who knows something’s afoot but can only seem to verbalise that through her puzzle answers.
Even though this is classed as a horror film – so you should know what to expect – I do like to sometimes issue warnings for those who might have particular past experiences or phobias that might make a film unwatchable: those related to this film are the aforementioned rape scene; those with odontophobia (the fear of dentists) and those with anguillophobia (the fear of eels), the latter caused presumably by too early an exposure to the horrors of “The Little Mermaid”!
“A Cure for Wellness” – shot, by the way, at the Castle Hohenzollern in Baden-Württemberg, Germany – will probably appeal to lovers of gothic horror, but its over-indulgences are likely to both frustrate and entertain you in equal measure.
Fad Rating: FFF.