Director Gore Verbinski has spent a long time making very expensive studio blockbusters, including three Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the disastrous reboot of The Lone Ranger. However, he did direct the most successful horror remake of all-time with The Ring and it is easy to forget that this man knows how to tackle a genre flick. With A Cure for Wellness, he is once again let loose on the horror/thriller genre and for better or for worse, he seemed to be totally unconstrained. This has resulted in an absolutely crazy, unhinged, unsettling and surely divisive movie. It is probably the most off-the-rails crazy, mainstream studio movie audiences are going to have the chance to see all year.
20th Century Fox's latest centers on an ambitious young finance executive who is sent to bring back his company's CEO from a very mysterious and remote "wellness center" in the Swiss Alps. However, what was supposed to be a quick grab and go turns into an unexpected stay when he too reluctantly becomes a patient at the facility. He soon suspects that the spa's treatments are not what they seem and that there is something much more unnerving going on.
There is no denying that Gore Verbinski has a unique talent for visuals. His style is one that stands out and you probably either love it or hate it. Despite the fact that A Cure For Wellness is a decidedly very different movie than anything he has done in the last decade, that same visual flair comes through. Some of the visuals are gorgeous. Some of them are thought provoking. Others are truly and honestly unsettling and perhaps even upsetting to some. Depending on how your tastes are configured, this very slow-burning movie that heavily relies on bizarre visuals to carry the kind of straightforward yet somehow seemingly confused narrative forward are either going to be the saving grace or the reason you don't like this movie. I picture A Cure For Wellness being the type of movie people argue about over the next several months.
Interestingly enough, genre movies like A Cure For Wellness typically require a director to exercise some constraint, usually for budgetary reasons and sometimes because studios don't want to push things too far in a relatively mainstream movie. In this case, it seems like Gore Verbinski was constricted by neither of these things, which can either be seen as good or bad. One can't help but wonder if he had to think around throwing money at the screen if this would have been a more streamlined movie. At times, it feels like it either needs to embrace its shock and awe horror avenue, or it needs to play into being the Shutter Island style thriller that it almost is. It falls right in the middle and that may wind up being the movie's biggest weakness. But hey, it looks expensive and pretty and stuff. Really, though, it should be noted that some of the imagery in this movie is really pushing it for a mainstream movie. Certain audience members may find it to be a bit much at times and nobody would blame them for thinking that. On the other hand, some people are going to love that exact same imagery and maybe consider it to be the best part of the movie. Again, divisive.
As for the cast, it is hard to criticize the movie on that front. Dane DeHaan leads the way as Lockhart. He wound up being a casualty of the disaster known as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and really hasn't had that breakout role after Chronicle that he deserves. I'm not quite sure that A Cure For Wellness is going to be that big thing for him, but he does a good job with what he is given. Mia Goth is truly, very good in the movie, especially in some situations that many actresses would have a pretty tough time dealing with. Jason Isaacs is also quite effective as the man who heads up this bizarre treatment facility. There aren't any surrounding cast members that drag the core performances down, which is really the most anyone can ask for in a genre movie like this.
A Cure For Wellness is a tough movie to recommend outright, because it will rely so much on the individual. For die-hard genre nuts, this may be something worth checking out. If you happen to be a fan of Gore Verbinski and thought Rango was great and figure this might be fun, you might want to think again. This movie really swings for the fences and it rides the line so closely that the difference between a foul ball and a home run is frustratingly close. The movie ultimately deserves points for what it tries to do. Whether or not it really succeeds at that is kind of up in the air.