By Jack Dignan
Gore Verbinski’s latest directorial effort, A Cure For Wellness, is not going to be a film for everyone, and overseas audiences have proved this point. The ambitious gothic thriller’s box office numbers are probably best left unmentioned, garnishing mixed reactions on top of that. But the beauty of film is that the opinions of others aren’t necessarily going to reflect your own, and because of that, amongst other reasons I will soon divulge into, I urge you to go see A Cure For Wellness this weekend. In the era of remakes, sequels and studio-controlled blockbusters, tomorrow sees the release of A Cure For Wellness, a strange and submissive mainstream art-house film that proves directors getting full creative control is something we need more of.
A Cure For Wellness is a film full of secrets, many of which rightfully deserve to remain as such until viewing of the film. Our story revolves around a young executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who has recently been promoted to a higher up job after the death of a co-worker. His company’s CEO (Harry Groener) has taken an unexpected, overlong holiday from which he has not returned. Soon, the company receives a letter explaining his absence, along with his plans to remain on retreat. With the company’s best interest in mind, Lockhart sets off on a business trip to a mysterious “wellness centre,” hoping to find the CEO and bring him back to America. And that’s when things start getting weird.
From creepy, never ending eels to a robust amount of full frontal nudity, frequently from senior citizens, A Cure For Wellness is a discomforting experience, to say the least. What intends to be an afternoon meet up results in so much more. Lockhart finds himself in an accident, his leg breaking and needing medical attention. Thankfully, and eerily conveniently, the wellness centre, led by Doctor Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is willing to meet his every needs. Something is up. Lockhart puts it upon himself to find this place’s true intentions, bringing him to brink of insanity in the process, the audience along with him.
This film is not at all what I expected it to be, both for better and worse. Despite it being extremely well edited and highly enthralling, do try your best to avoid the trailers. Granted, the plot is well hidden, most of the twists and turns kept locked away, but the visuals, all of which are extremely disturbing, deserve to be seen for the first time while watching the film. I was fortunate enough to have only seen the teaser trailer, which thankfully doesn’t reveal all that much as this is a film worth going into with as little previous knowledge as possible. It’s a slow raveling, highly atmospheric thriller that’s unsettlingly profound and wholeheartedly original. While I found it to be somewhat tamer than anticipated, it’s gruesome nature is undeniable.
With gorgeous cinematography and production design, this is a film that’s impossible to look away from, despite occasionally wanting to. Every frame is sublime, Verbinski able to capture this location’s gothic beauty in a stylistic manner, frequently feeling like an artistic masterpiece. His genre defying passion project is often mesmerising. It’s a film so original and so surreal that it can only be the work of a madman, and a brilliant one at that. Verbinski’s vision is made abundantly clear, the story being told one that’s sick, twisted and, for lack of a better word, quite fucked. The film is able to provide a message without actually providing a message, intertwining visual metaphors and social commentary in a subtle, yet impactful way. There’s a certain beauty that hovers throughout the entire project, an unforeseen beauty that, once gazed upon, is impossible to turn away from.
Describing A Cure For Wellness as being nonsensical in nature is an extreme understatement. The film delves deep into its several intertwined plotlines, uncovering the mystery behind his wicked place while bringing new questions to light. Certain smaller elements are predictable, some to higher degrees of sense than others, but most of the plot twists receive their desired shock vale. This is a movie that revels in its own narrative incoherence, deliberately playing with your head and experimenting in all the right ways. A lot doesn’t make sense, and even more is left without explanation, but it’s all part of the game, for good and for bad. It’s frequently infuriating, yes, and the third act goes full ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ on us, but trying to internally work out what’s going on is so much fun.
Despite being released for the masses, A Cure For Wellness is not a film for everyone, nor is it one captivating enough to require repeat viewings (I do see myself coming back to it, but not frequently). It’s an anxiety-inducing, psychedelic mad scientist horror-thriller that’s just grizzly enough to work, while remaining borderline ridiculous. I didn’t love it all, but I loved it enough. Let’s get more films like this please.
3 1/2 Stars
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