Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Cure For Wellness Review

'Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that's the only way one could hope for a cure.'

Elegant wax-sealed letters, like something out of a fairy-tale, find their way to bleary, hard-edged New York offices. Pembroke (Harry Groener), the CEO of a major company has retired to a mysterious 'wellness centre' deep in the Swiss Alps, and claims to have found a cure for the stresses of modern life in the confines of its idyllic grounds. Sent to retrieve him on company business, driven young executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) soon learns that everything isn't as it seems in this remote Alpine resort. Trouble in paradise one might say.

Aesthetically this is a beautifully shot film, with production design that expertly juxtaposes elegance and the macabre in a way that brings to mind the sinister sterility of films like Shutter Island or A Clockwork Orange. Atmospheric, it evokes a peculiar beauty that can be found in the banal and the morbid, making things appear ever darker under the strange and surreal lens of Gore Verbinski's tainted imagination.

Jason Isaacs provides a suitably menacing opponent in Volmer, the spa director, who recommends Lockhart try some of the sanatorium's treatments after sustaining a leg injury in a freak car accident. During his time there, Lockhart also meets Hannah (Mia Goth), spectral and enigmatic, she is the youngest patient at the spa. Eyes like shadow-rimmed saucers, she comports herself with something of a girlish naivety that makes for a magnetic onscreen presence. Dehaan is a fine lead as Lockhart, ever questioning, and with a subtly sinister edge himself. What can be taken away from Verbinski's nightmarish crock-pot? Perhaps a thinly veiled commentary on our 21st century obsession with 'wellness', and contemporary health anxiety and paranoia, our quickness to stick a label or diagnosis on our problems.

Cure For Wellness review by Paul Heath, February 2017.

The problem with A Cure For Wellness is that it can't seem to decide what it wants to be. Gothic horror? Psychological thriller? Both? A blend of genres is fine, but Verbinski's vision is cluttered by over-ambition and excess. The film's running time is also much longer than it needs to be, and it feels that way too. Each layer peels away like withered rose petals, only to reveal very little substance under the surface.

If there's one thing this film doesn't lack, it's intrigue. It keeps you on your toes throughout, and regularly introduces new miseries and perversions into the narrative, whilst exploring the haunted history of the sanatorium. While this makes for intricately layered story-telling, it becomes overwhelmed by itself all too soon. Too many questions are left unanswered, and what begins as a promising concept soon becomes a tangle of narrative threads. All of this culminates in a cockamamie ending that will see you suspending your disbelief to its very limit.