“A Cure for Wellness” Review: Incurable

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

If you think the title “A Cure for Wellness doesn’t make much sense, just wait until you see the movie.

Returning to the horror genre for the first time in 15 years (since The Ring), Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is an experiment in excess. With a two-and-a-half-hour run time, there is approximately 45 minutes worth of interesting material, and a whole heck of a lot of nonsense.

The movie gets off to a rocky start. After an irrelevant death sequence that is never explained or contextualized, the audience is introduced to the film’s main character, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan). DeHaan, perpetually youthful, stands out in a world of old executives, but the movie accounts for this by asserting Lockhart’s constant ambition. Not subtle in its anti-businessperson rhetoric, the narrative sends Lockhart on a mission to retrieve his company’s CEO from a spa resort – who quit and/or went insane while visiting – in order to fulfill a merger. While there, Lockhart gets into a car accident with a CGI deer, and is forced to stay at the Swiss “wellness center.” Things start to look suspicious.

Contrived dialogue and stilted performances make the exposition cringey and uncomfortable. But there is also room for hope. The cinematography is gorgeous (especially in the Alpine tracking shots) and DeHaan’s gaze is magnetic, as always. However, that hope goes unfulfilled: instead of eventually getting interesting, A Cure for Wellness only grows more and more tedious until it ends.

If only the film had a new editor. Despite the near-constant geriatric nudity and ever-present plot twists, the movie is boring beyond belief. Maybe the film would work if it were 80 or 90 minutes. The excessive run-time is never justified as the movie just wastes time on characters staring at inanimate objects. Worse still, the movie renders several of its scenes and subplots entirely pointless. Characters go through significant transformations or even die before returning in the following scene unchanged. It’s messy and disengaging. If there aren’t going to be any consequences for gratuitous acts, then they just seem exploitative. And A Cure for Wellness grows more exploitative as it reaches it climax, showcasing lots of triggering imagery with no real justification.

If this lack of continuity was unintentional, it’s an incompetent final product. If it was intentional, then A Cure for Wellness exists as little more than an exercise in gaslighting, both on and off-screen. Lockhart spends most of the narrative questioning his own sanity as his head doctor (Jason Isaacs) denies all of his experiences. The same thing is done to the audience. The narrative progression makes no coherent sense, leaving the viewers to ponder on if what they are seeing will hold any sort of consistency.

If it weren’t so sloppy, this could potentially be an interesting choice. One of my friends described it as “Shutter Island but with no subtlety or self-awareness.” There are a few exciting sequences, but for the most part A Cure for Wellness is frustrating and tedious.

By the time you get to the end of the film, the movie’s purpose has become indecipherable. It’s clear that the film’s framing is trying to make some point about toxic domination, but the narrative then victimizes the corporate executives that it initially indicts. DeHaan’s character is never encouraged to break out of his mold in order to fight the 200-year-old eel-whisperer serial murderers, and the audience is left wondering if there’s even a purpose to the 150-minute expedition. There’s not. And a cure without a purpose behind it is pretty useless.

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