Movie Review: A Cure for Wellness.
Gore Verbinski’s horror thriller is a tight and gorgeous throwback to classic Gothic horror.
A Cure for Wellness is currently struggling to find a market in a busy horror genre. It is a tremendous gamble with its big budget. While I definitely decry the marketing tactics 20th Century Fox has ginned up to drive interest in the film (including creating click-bait fake news that ends up being promotional material for the film,) I can certainly understand their worry. Gothic horror films fare miserably at the box office. Think back to Crimson Peak, which confused audiences and caused fits for Guillermo Del Toro because the studio marketed it poorly.
The shame of this situation is that A Cure for Wellness is a good film. It has a wonderfully creepy aesthetic, sumptuous visuals, a tight mystery to unravel, and strong pacing. It kept me engaged and entertained for the entirety of the two and half hour run time, and left me with enough questions to keep the film fresh in my mind.
A Cure for Wellness (2017)
Lockhart is a driven and egotistical young businessman, looking to dominate the financial industry at any cost. His ambition gets him in immediate trouble: he fakes some numbers and ends up faced with an ultimatum – go to Switzerland and retrieve the CEO of the company or face the ire of the feds who are swarming all over the company. The CEO, Pembroke, has seemingly had a mental break down and retreated to a reclusive and opulent health spa. If Lockhart can get him back to New York, the company plans to pass off all the shady business that is rampant in the firm as due to Pembroke’s mental state. Unfortunately, the spa is very reluctant to let guests leave, especially arrogant young men who ask too many questions.
Form Following Function.
This film is a treat for the eyes, even when it is relentlessly grotesque. Establishing shots of somber, green tinted high-rises are contrasted with the austere beauty of cerulean mountains. The forbidding eccentricities of Gothic architecture at the health spa is contrasted with antiseptic modern lines, empty corridors, extensive drab tile work, and spartan furnishings.
The film evokes three time periods with its imagery and color palette. The modern technological era is dark and sear, washed in tones of green and black. Even Lockhart’s skin is pallid and green ting
ed when he begins his journey. The sanitarium is done up with early 20th century modernist style, clean lines, lack of ornamentation, and large spaces. This is an uncluttered look that reflects the divestment and emptying-out that the guests of the facility are undergoing. Finally, old structures from the spa’s early life as a lord’s castle evoke rich Gothic architecture, with deep colors and ornamentation this is beautiful and ghastly at once.
The cast of the film is quite strong. Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, who is intriguing in his repellent nature. We’re obviously not meant to like him initially, as he is a little shit. Bright, motivated, and ruthless, we get a sense that he is covering insecurity with a veneer of nastiness. His performance walks the fine line where you don’t mind seeing awful things happen to him, but you also want him to keep digging. Eventually, he’s suffered enough and revealed enough of the tragedies that drive him that you begin to pull for him.
Mia Goth as Hannah, the only young person besides Lockhart at the facility, is another difficult role. Initially she is uncommunicative and childish, having been isolated in the spa her whole life. She too eventually opens up as a character and becomes engaging. The role could have devolved into a pretty little nothing, just a doll for the script to toss around, but Goth gives the role some nice depth.
Finally, Jason Isaacs plays Dr. Volmer, the head of the facility. He is charming like a vampire, and you know his casual manner and easy smile are just a facade. His casual domination of the events is fun to watch, but the script doesn’t do him any favors in the final act of the film.
A Cure for Wellness is a well made modern Gothic horror story. It trades in all of the prominent themes of the genre such as science vs. the paranormal, isolation, forbidden romance, imprisonment (mental and physical) and a pervading sense of morbidity. In more than just setting, Verbinski creates a spiritual successor to tales such as Stoker’s Dracula, Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the short stories of Poe. It blends these influences with body horror and motifs more familiar to torture films, but those elements are always kept in check by the over-arching Gothic structure.
I quite enjoyed this film, as it is meticulously crafted. Every image and juxtaposition is created to serve a purpose. It has multiple layers winding through it, some overt like the moral bankruptcy of industry or the perpetual popular frenzy to find a magical cure, and some well hidden. I found that I could ramble for pages on the implications of each element…and so I will end my review here. I found the film to be a good horror film, and excellent Gothic tale, and a well made product. This genre certainly is niche in the current market, but I think there are many virtues to recommend A Cure for Wellness to a general audience.