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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

A Cure for Wellness movie review: it ails me

A Cure for Wellness red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Ominous signs and psychological detours get tossed out and tossed away on the path to ridiculous gothic nonsense that takes itself far too seriously.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Wait, a cure for what? For wellness? Who would want a cure for wellness?tweet

That title — A Cure for Wellness — should have been my first sign that things would be deeply wrong with this movie. The second might have been that the previous collaboration between director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe was their utterly wrongheaded attempt to reboot The Lone Ranger.

“Of course, Mr. DeHaan, you can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.”

“Of course, Mr. DeHaan, you can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.”tweet

It’s not even ironic, thatwellness. It’s not like New York finance shark Lockhart (Dane DeHaan: Life, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) thinks he’s fine and dandy and healthy, unless he’s completely delusional about how unwell it is to be snarling at total strangers while chewing gobs of Nicorette like it’s candy, and we have no indication of that. (Maybe it’s just that DeHaan is too good an actor to not let it seep through his character’s pores how his level of stress is epically horrific. The most epically horrific thing about this movie, in fact, which shouldn’t be the case.) And it’s not like the mysterious spa in the remotest Swiss Alps to which he is sent to retrieve a coworker on urgent takeover business promises to cure “wellness,” either, whatever that might mean. The place is meant to be a retreat from the modern pressures that make busy Type-A go-getters like Lockhart unwell, such as 24/7 connectivity.

The spa promises a “cure,” certainly… in the way of 19th-century snake-oil salesmen, and what with all the ominous signs and portents — there’s something in the water! — we are certainly meant to suspect that wellness is indeed being taken away from the patients. But why? To what end? What’s really going on? Lockhart has plenty of time to find out, because now he’s a virtual prisoner in the place, laid up by a broken leg incurred in a car accident as he was leaving. Is Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaac: Fury, Abduction) sinister or merely German? What is in the mysterious vial eerie youngster Hannah (Mia Goth: Everest, Nymphomaniac: Volume 2) — the only young person in the place — wears around her neck and occasionally drinks from? Will we end up caring at all?

A Cure for Wellness is like a 1930s Universal monster movie rejected for being just too silly.

Spoiler: No.

What Lockhart discovers is going on makes absolutely no sense on any level.tweet Not on a practical one, like how this spa could sustain itself or how it could continue to attract clientele. Not on the level of the nightmarescape that Cure would like to be, tossing out psychological detours and distractions that would seem to be trying to make us wonder whether Lockhart isn’t dreaming or fantasizing, or whether there is something actually messed up in spacetime: Lockhart appears to attend his mother’s funeral back in New York in a way that does not fit into the supposed timeline here, and why does it always seem to be 3:10pm whenever Lockhart looks at a clock? The script concocts unnecessarily convoluted reasons for a lot of what transpirestweet onscreen, and then almost as quickly tosses them aside. They don’t even feel like cheats: they feel like tangents that are accidentally forgotten… or that it is hoped we will forget. The movie’s unsupportable two-and-a-half-hour runtime could have easily been a solid hour shorter, and that might have made the final level on which this film does not work — that of gothic horror — more forgivable.

The eel bath is recommended for those clients seeking a soothing electroshock spa treatment.

The eel bath is recommended for those clients seeking a soothing electroshock spa treatment.tweet

Or maybe not. After all the would-be weirdness and unsuccessful mind-fuckery, A Cure for Wellness forces itself into full-on baroque grotesquerie, like something rejected as a Universal monster movie of the 1930s as just too silly. Any ambiguity is thrown away: this is meant to be taken as solid literal fact even though it is ludicrously absurd. And yet even the cheesiness of its ridiculous nonsense isn’t genuine: Verbinski treats it all far too seriously, which renders it actively offensive, not only for its tedious conventionality — there’s a damsel in distress and a male savior — but for how it fails to even recognize the horror of it: Verbinski shoots a rape scene as bodice-ripping titillation, not as a violent assault.

The only cure needed after this is one for the bad taste it left in my mouth.tweet

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light 1 star

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A Cure for Wellness (2017) | directed by Gore Verbinski
US/Can release: Feb 17 2017
UK/Ire release: Feb 24 2017

MPAA: rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language
BBFC: rated 18 (strong violence, scene of sexual assault)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Verbinski made Pirates of the Caribbean (however many of them you may think were good, but I think we’ll all agree on the first one) and Rango. But also the American The Ring.

  • Dent

    Wait… so he made Rango and then decided that meant that he could do The Lone Ranger?

  • Danielm80

    No, he made The Mexican and several movies about pirates, along with a drama and a horror movie, and then decided he could do an animated adventure story.

    Also: Steven Spielberg made a bunch of movies about aliens and adventurers and then decided he could handle a Holocaust drama. And Tim Burton made a bunch of offbeat comedies and decided he could handle a Batman movie.

  • RogerBW

    It’s odd, but one can see how having made Rango might make a studio think “here’s a guy with a track record, we’ll give him this ancient property we bought in a bundle with the names we actually wanted and see if he can make something of it”.
    But I think at heart he’s always been a music video and advertisement director.

  • I love *Rango* and the first POTC and especially Verbinski’s first feature, the totally bonkers *Mousehunt.* He should stick to comedies.

  • Dent

    Fair point. I suppose it’s just as unfair to assign a director a genera as it is an actor a type… unless they pull an M. Night.

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