A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Given the stresses of Wall Street, you’d think Mr Lockhart (DeHaan) would be glad to get away from it all, retreating to a relaxed hydrotherapy clinic in the Swiss Alps. Alas, this trip is strictly business rather than pleasure – to right some wrongs at home, and save his firm, he needs to return with former boss turned patient Mr Pembroke (Groener). So is the setup for the latest chiller from former Ring helmer Gore Verbinski.
To make matters worse, upon arrival the staff are less than helpful, obstructing him at every turn. Add to it the young, distant, ‘special case’ Hannah’s (Goth) ominous words that “nobody ever leaves” and it’s clear something’s amiss. Unfortunately for Lockhart, he has a long time to investigate (and believe me, it’s a long time) after an ‘accident’ sees him stuck at the clinic on crutches. Under the watchful eye of the sinister Dr Volmer (Isaacs), he sets about finding what happened to his old boss, what’s wrong with the patients and what’s in the water. The investigation makes for a sometimes excellent, sometimes frustrating, but generally always intriguing tale.
As alluded to above, like with the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Verbinski refuses to do a 90 minute film where a two and a half hour one will do. The problem is there’s really not enough plot to justify the decision, with the second act often feeling very padded out. For the bulk of the middle hour we repeatedly watch Lockhart go into places he shouldn’t be and getting caught – but not before seeing just enough to make him want to go to others areas he shouldn’t be etc. As per the eerily calm patients, awaiting their next session, it soon becomes a routine ‘til you wonder why the forces that don’t just have him killed and be done with it. Furthermore, when the reveals finally come there’s little you couldn’t have guessed much earlier on, with the villain and the method being entirely predictable. As such only the motive has any real impact. In fact the biggest puzzle may be why it’s still so damn watchable.
Because for the most part, it really is! A mystery horror, without any mystery or horror, so much of the success come from Verbinski’s excellent presentation. The gothic splendour of the clinic itself provides a beautiful backdrop for the action. The exterior, along with the long road that runs to it is picturesque. And inside every corridor drips with a cold, creepy atmosphere. The juxtaposition between the slow, almost static, financial world and the often hypnotic movement of the patients gives the film a visual flare. Furthermore, while it’d be hard to call the film graphic (the actual onscreen violence would earn the film a 12, though I suspect the frequent, but largely tasteful, nudity will get it a 15) there are some really quite unpleasant sequences. The motif of eels is also one I’ve rarely seen in a movie, let alone seen done so well. The slippery little critters show up everywhere, getting down mouths and between legs and probably even under your skin.
The cast also excel, with DeHaan and Goth in particular capturing the tension between the dramatic and the otherworldly aspects of the movie. To say much of it watches like a dream would be to overstate it. That being said it’s certainly not your average thriller, and takes you deep into the uncanny valley. And though sometimes you may find yourself wishing it’d go faster, as per the guests, come the end you won’t want to leave.