Saturday, 18 March 2017

Film Review: A Cure for Wellness


Directed by Gore Verbinski, A Cure for Wellness is a suffocatingly tense and morbid thriller that will most likely divide audiences down the middle. 

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a self-obsessed Wall Street banker, is dispatched by his employer to a spa in Switzerland where he is tasked with finding a wayward company board member and returning him to New York.

However, upon arriving at the mysterious alpine retreat, Lockhart finds the nefarious head doctor, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is up to something rather nefarious and escaping with his own life becomes increasingly unlikely.

A Cure for Wellness is a surreal nightmare that circles The Shining and Shutter Island. The whole film is cloaked in a thick envelope of dread and overbearing death. It's a long slog that slowly notches up the tension inch by inch before dissolving into a swirling mess of a finale, but it's also a startlingly daring film that doesn't put itself in a box like most mainstream American cinema. Put simply, I haven't seen anything like it for a long time - and that gets you lots of brownie points from the get-go.

Verbinski, who is best known for directing the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies as well as The Lone Ranger, returns to a earlier time by channelling his work on the American remake of The Ring, a movie that also positively dripped with lashings of doom and gloom. His direction here is great; very methodical and constrained at times, Verbinski places each shot and frames each action with purpose. There is no denying A Cure for Wellness looks incredible; the production design is especially horrid and cheerless, with everything coated in a thick layer of greys, greens and with only the occasional flash of colour.

The acting is a little hit and miss at times; Dane DeHaan chews the scenery with gleeful abandon, revelling in the hokey plot and twisted mentality undercutting the sickened experiments going on behind the scenes at the wellness centre. Jason Isaacs is also suitably silly as the malicious baddie who using the guests for something evil no doubt.

All this sounds rather good, right? It's an original story with lush visuals and a cast of actors getting into the B-movie groove. Alas, A Cure for Wellness is far from perfect. There are two detrimental issues hampering the film; the pace and the plot.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours, A Cure for Wellness is needlessly long. It's the kind of film that could be shaved back by 30-40 minutes and would improve a great deal. After an eerily long opening act that sees Lockhart curiously caught at the wellness centre, the film begins to meander, offering not one but two or even three moments that could serve as an ending before steering the plot in another direction, over and over. It feels like the script gets caught in a cycle for a while, pointlessly putting off the eventual reveal and making the audience wait...and wait...and wait.

Couple this with the fact that the quote/unquote reveal is nothing short of predictable and the whole plot feels disappointingly hokey at the end of the day. If you can't see the 'twist' coming, you've probably never seen a movie before - that's how plain as day the setup is. That you're then made to wait another 90 minutes before your suspicions are proven absolutely correct is the real crime here.

That being said, I have to give this film props to some degree. In a landscape dominated by predictable blockbusters moulded in boardrooms to hit all four quarters on a spreadsheet, A Cure for Wellness is refreshingly out there and confronting. The plot might be predictable, but Verbinski doesn't shy away from straying into territory that most wide releases wouldn't touch with a barge pole, particularly in the batshit insane third act. There are a heap of sights in this film that I wish I could unsee - which is a good thing, I guess. I'm definitely not going to forget this film in a while.

The Verdict: 6.5/10


Even though it's overlong and easy to pick, A Cure for Wellness still leaves a strong enough impression to warrant a recommendation from me. Stick with it through the ups and downs and see if you can stomach the ending.

A Cure for Wellness is in cinemas across Australia now

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