20th CENTURY FOX (2017)
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
Recalling the horrors of years past, drawing from Hitchcock, Kubrick and tinged with B-movie gothic horror, A Cure for Wellness is set up for success. With a near 120 minute runtime, it is certainly a slow burner like the afore mentioned directors excelled at – whilst also eliciting thoughts of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
High praise indeed, but does it match up to the heights of those esteemed filmmakers and classics? No. But it’s a wonderfully weird and bizarre horror-mystery trip all the same.
The movie follows the story of Lockhart (DeHaan), an ambitious and successful young businessman sent by his New York company’s board to retrieve their CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), who is currently housed in a spa retreat in the Swiss Alps. The company received a strange, rambling letter from Pembroke and deduced he had gone insane – so why do they need him back? Well, Lockhart has risen to the top on the back of shady dealings and the only way to save his career is to retrieve Pembroke and have him be seen as the scapegoat for the company’s dodgy deals. With that lifeline, Lockhart heads to Switzerland for a seemingly routine trip that turns out to be anything but simple. The guests here never leave, the doctors insist you drink the water, a creepy girl named Hannah (Goth) silently moves like a ghost through the facility and there’s eels aplenty (that’s just the start)
The sanitarium is built upon a mysterious aquifer which supposedly feeds through water with miracle medicinal qualities, staffed by silent, staring staff and headed up by the ominous Dr. Volmer (Isaacs) it’s clear how this place got its reputation. A car accident ensures Lockhart must stay for longer than anticipated, and it quickly becomes obvious something sinister is going on behind the crisp white smiles of the staff and patients.
The most apparent thing about the movie is how richly it is shot, Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli have crafted some wonderful visuals and imagery and daubed almost artistic swathes across the frames – the symmetrical view of the train thundering towards the mountain is gorgeous, the sharp reflections in the water, the hilltop sanitarium overlooking the Alps (Hohenzollern Castle in Bisingen, Germany) are all a feast for the eyes. The deathly pale of DeHaan offsets the green tinge within the facility and the water seems to change from aqua blue to black throughout. It’s a great looking movie.
There’s no issues with the cast either, DeHaan looks the part (and looks genuinely ill…) and plays the smarmy businessman turned paranoid prisoner well. Goth lends an air of mystery with her naïve yet graceful turn and Jason Isaacs is solid as he gets to chew the scenery as the ever-looming antagonist. Everyone else within the facility is just deliciously creepy.
There are red herrings galore throughout the movie, designed to throw you off the scent and attempt to build on the escalating level of suspicion felt by Lockhart, and some work where others don’t. It’s clear that water is the key to the movie – it’s basically laid out in the first twenty minutes and it appears everywhere. Once the castle’s previous tenants (complete with grisly backstory) are discussed, it becomes fairly obvious as to who they are quite quickly and some plot strands are left unresolved, but the movie just holds itself together under the weight of ever-evolving plot points and throwing the kitchen sink in (stillborn cattle, masturbation, incest rape, eels, evil dentists, menstruation)
Where the movie falls down is with Verbinski opting for the drawn-out approach of building atmosphere and dread, it begins to overstay its welcome. The runtime could have been shortened by fifteen minutes at least and the movie wouldn’t have suffered for it. I wasn’t bored throughout, however the movie could’ve become tighter and more cohesive with greater editing. The third act is bonkers and feels slightly different to the tone of the rest of the movie – more Phantom of the Opera – and the shift is slightly jarring.
A story of the need to cleanse ourselves of daily working/life stress and a hit at the capitalism rife in this world, Verbinski has a message to say and more than conveys it here, though possibly too clearly as a lot is explained to us (rather than shown, if at all required) A movie with a mismatch of threads and motifs, but one that manages to hold them all together and create a satisfyingly creepy, and original, modern horror movie.
Now, where’s my water?
July 20th 2017