Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
For a film from the director who brought us The Weather Man and Rango, his newest feature, A Cure for Wellness, is both satisfyingly sinister and comfortably classic. To be fair, Verbinski also directed The Ring, one of the scariest films I have ever seen, and The Curse of the Black Pearl, an absolute and near-perfect gem, so perhaps he is simply the most versatile filmmaker in the industry and we ought to stop imagining that we can predict what he might do next or how well it might turn out. This film is a pleasant (or unpleasant) surprise, depending on how you look at it, delivering an old-school feel while presenting us with something uniquely spooky. Hats off to Verbinski for crafting something so strange and yet so familiar, a movie that will scare, of course, but one that is also dangerously delightful.
Young, up-and-coming executive Lockhart is in a bit of a pickle. His nefarious and not-so-clever methods have been noticed by the board of his company right before their big merger, something that ought to land him in jail, do not pass go. But there are bigger fish to fry, and Lockhart has no choice but to be the angler. A board member, Pembroke, has gone away to a spa in the Alps and has yet to come back, something that needs to happen if the merger is to be carried out. Lockhart's job is to travel into the mountains, convince Pembroke to return, and all shall be forgiven. But, as they say with a smile at the sanatorium, why would anyone want to leave? After all, the upper-echelon clientele are very sick, Dr. Volmer seems to be making them well again with his treatments, even if Lockhart begins to suspect that evil might be lurking deep inside the healing waters of the idyllic Alpine retreat.
With a horror throwback feel that almost reminded me of Wes Craven's Swamp Thing, Verbinski's A Cure For Wellness breathes classic creeps while shouting modern imagery. It's extremely difficult for a film to walk the fine line between paying homage to the classics while also bringing something new to the theatre, but this movie was able to keep that precarious balance. There was an odd comfort in the atmosphere of the plot, even while audiences were forced to look away from what they did not want to see, a pleasant mood like spending time with an old friend, all while demanding that the hero not open that door. Verbinski created a fledgling world in which to set his story, pulled an evil plot out of thin air, but somehow also made us feel like we'd seen this all before, in a good way though, as if we too were enjoying the sinister setting too much to leave.
There's an extremely unnerving tune played at the beginning of the film, and then brought back throughout, that sets the tone for the whole show, that sets you on edge and makes you wonder what you got yourself into. This music, some stellar cinematography, and a patience to let events unfold as they will without forcing them to life are all to Verbinski's credit, helping to elevate the movie above simple genre horror. There was an insanity to the characters, an unexplained madness, that made the whole things wonderfully unpredictable as well. Jason Isaacs was the devil of this particular hell, and I couldn't help relating his character from The OA, another megalomaniac with a secret. And Dane DeHaan was great, a bit everyman, a bit cocky, a nice combination of both that made him relatable. A Cure for Wellness is a strange, drawn out, psychotic, disgusting adventure tale, not a film for the meek, but something that will please your darker side if you so desire.