An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem.
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From its opening moments, it's hard to deny the allure of A Cure for Wellness
. With an ominous score, foreboding cinematography, and subtle foreshadowing, the film teases its audience with a mystery that's layered, sophisticated, and, most importantly, worth unraveling. However, as the film progresses, it struggles to balance the two most important elements of a mystery: the questions and the answers.
Dane Dehaan (Chronicle
) plays Lockhart, a Wall Street executive that's essentially blackmailed into venturing to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps to recover his mentally unstable boss. Lockhart's not all there himself, but he's observant enough to notice the wellness center is hiding something. It's your prototypical mysterious medical facility, where the staff all act weird, the "patients" all seem overjoyed with their care, and the main character is the only one who notices.
As A Cure for Wellness
starts to get going, it gives tiny hints towards its larger mystery, which are compelling in and of themselves. Eventually, though, it becomes clear where things are going, and it's only a matter of time before Lockhart starts to put things together. It's that disconnect, where the story is still building but the audience is waiting for the conclusion, that keeps A Cure for Wellness
from hitting its mark. The film is all about mystery and payoff, but the payoff never lives up to the mystery.
And when things aren't obvious, they are mostly weird, and not in a good way either. A Cure for Wellness
is a heavy genre picture that never balks at an idea no matter how shocking it may be. But a lot of the creepier and disturbing moments feel like shock for shock's sake, with little motivation coming from the story. There are a few things about the film that are genuinely unnerving and effective, but then, things derail in the laughable final act. An uncomfortable chuckle is one thing, but the final sequence of the film generated genuine laughter for how ludicrous it was.
To the film's credit, the direction and the cast are solid, which are key for genre films like these. Director Gore Verbinski (The Lone Ranger
) knows his way around a dark and foreboding atmosphere, and he packs every frame with plenty of detail. Dane Dehaan also plays a great fish out of water in the film, giving Lockhart that unnecessarily confident swagger of a man who is clearly being manipulated.
The problem is that A Cure for Wellness
feels too bloated and overindulgent. The film spends so much time toying with its mystery that it has already given the big payoff away. There's even a moment where it feels like the film has hit its conclusion, and then there's another full act packed behind it. If the intent was to give the audience enough clues to figure everything out, then it's best to assume they will, and not belabor the point while circling the answer.
A Cure for Wellness
doesn't give its audience enough credit. The film is packed with questions and mysteries, but many of the answers to those questions are seemingly obvious from the outset. Or at least the foundation of those answers are obvious, the audience just doesn't know how the pieces fit together just yet. It's a genre picture that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, with an ominous color palette, striking visuals, and a very specific tone. But when it all comes down to it, A Cure for Wellness
may have pushed too far into the realm of the weird to be worth recommending, and spent too much time building up a mystery whose conclusion felt obvious from the get-go. With a little careful editing and some narrative cleanup, the film could have hit the right genre notes and delivered on its mysterious setups. Instead it devolves into a laughable mess that will have most shaking their heads by the end.
Between the first The Ring
film and his Pirates of the Caribbean
movies, Gore Verbinski established himself as a talent with an eye for style. Here he once again puts those skills on display, giving A Cure for Wellness
a moody atmosphere and color palette that works well for the material. The story might not be that great, but Verbinski's execution on the material is still solid; clearly he gave everything to make the film his way. Ultimately, though, faulty material is going to undermine any successful elements, to the point you start to lose appreciation. Early on Verbinski was firing on all cylinders, but by the end it's hard to look past the goofy final act.