Oh boy, it’s time to talk about arthouse films. Since I never got around to reviewing The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it looks like A Cure for Wellness is going to be the first “different” movie that I’ve reviewed. This movie is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and a film from Gore Verbinski is almost always a treat. Let’s get to it.
A Cure for Wellness is directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski. Stars-Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, and Harry Groener. Premise-An American businessman (DeHaan) is sent to the Swiss Alps to find his CEO (Groener) who left suddenly after leaving a note stating that he was looking “for the cure,” that can only be found at a mysterious facility in the mountains.
Mr. Verbinski has established himself to be a versatile director. From unique comedies like Mousehunt and The Weather Man, to the terrifying Ringu remake (The Ring), to the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, to the Best Animated Feature-winning Rango; his films have left their mark on cinema. However, one of his biggest criticisms is making movies that think they’re “bigger” than they actually are. For example, the Pirates sequels tried to be grandiose and stupendous, even though audiences love the first because of its lighthearted action. Another would be Rango, which was filled with morals and social commentary (although I think the story is sublime) despite being an animated Disney film. Try as I have to counteract that argument, it has never been more prevalent than with A Cure for Wellness, that cannot (for the life of itself), figure out what it wants to say. I opened by mentioning arthouse films because this movie makes the tiresome trek across that genre’s many possibilities and somehow came out with incoherence and pretention.
The very first thing I have to acknowledge is the style of this film. It looks spectacular. Verbinski has a great eye for framing a shot (check out Mousehunt for some really cool camerawork). A Cure for Wellness is a picturesque film, and you can see some of this beauty on the official website. The set design and color-correction give it a very eerie tone, one that effectively brings chills at times. The score is equally entrancing, adding atmosphere at very precise moments. On a visual level, it can’t be beat, but that is sadly the most impressive thing about A Cure for Wellness.
The movie actually starts out pretty strong. We get some intriguing visual foreshadowing and insightful social commentary (the only commentary in the movie that makes sense). You’ll quickly realize that A Cure for Wellness decides to spend most of its time getting high rather than making sense. After some exposition (including DeHaan’s character motivation), he makes the trip to the treatment center. The first act does a great job of creeping you out while setting up the rest of the story. But you’ll quickly realize that the movie is a downward spiral after the “car scene.” The pacing is slower than a Smart Fortwo, and instead of explaining what is going on, Verbinski decides to show you his “artistic vision.” Yes, the movie looks incredible, but it (being a pretentious arthouse film) throws a bunch of disturbing/confusing imagery at you. Some of these visuals are creative, and some will wreck your suspension of disbelief. While I’m at it, let’s talk about the torture scenes! Remember that disgusting “turkey baster” thing in Don’t Breathe? Imagine four of those scenes in one movie, which go on for five minutes each, are even nastier, and go all the way with their detail. I overacted with my reaction to Don’t Breathe; after all, they didn’t go all the way with what was going to happen. I can name at least two movies (The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film) that are more shocking than A Cure for Wellness. That said, there are numerous things in this movie that will trigger many. Animal abuse, extensive gore, and lots of naked old people. My philosophy is, “If it has a point, go for it.” Most of the disturbing imagery we see after the boring first half is unexplained and has little story impact. I’d like there to be a reason behind making me vomit.
The actual narrative is even less impressive by comparison. There are a whole lot of genre clichés (you could see half of them in the trailers), the continuity is abysmal, and I left the theater asking, “What the heck was the point of all that?” Usually, you can tell that an artsy-fartsy movie wants to say something. In the case of A Cure for Wellness, I have no idea what they were going for. The actors (especially DeHaan) are trying their best, but the script is harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code! This brings me to my last point; A Cure for Wellness would make an excellent videogame. I mean it. A first-person horror survival set in a mysterious health facility with a dark past. The philosophy, odd characters, and brutality would work better in a game than a 150 minute film. Imagine Outlast combined with Silent Hill; now that would be awesome!
I will say that I’m glad this movie was made, for all of its mistakes; more “different” films need to be mass released. Despite all of its flaws, there is a thought-provoking psychological thriller hidden in the shadows. The movie already has a Lilliputian cult following, and inspiration is much more powerful than entertainment, which the movie failed to provide. A Cure for Wellness gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.