I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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.
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?
What Lockhart discovers is going on makes absolutely no sense on any level. 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 transpires 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.
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.