Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.
There are a handful of movies that I have checked out from a library any number of times and haven’t pulled the trigger on watching. There are probably at least half a dozen that I have checked out in the double digits and simply haven’t watched. Until today, A Cure for Wellness fell into that category. I’m not sure exactly what prevented me from watching the film aside from the fact that it’s long and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much time on a movie that got such mixed reviews. I don’t live and die by what critics or audiences have to say about a movie, but sitting for nearly 150 minutes for a movie that racked up a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes is a hard sell.
But, knowing that I had once again check the movie out and that it was due in the morning finally lit the fire underneath me that I needed to sit down and watch it. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure what to think of it. I hate to say that I need to watch it again, but that might be the case. Standing in the way for me is the presence of Dane DeHaan front and center. There’s something about DeHaan that I find upsetting. I’m not sure if it’s the giant eye bags that make him look like he wandered head-first into a wasp nest or the fact that his head is shaped like a garlic bulb, but there it is.
Anyway, an up-and-coming New York executive named Lockhart (DeHaan) is sent to a spa/sanitarium in Switzerland to retrieve the company CEO (Harry Groener), who has decided for an extended stay. The company is in the process of a merger and the CEO’s signature is needed. More significantly, the company is under investigation at all levels (including that of Lockhart), and the corporate board wants that signature to more or less ensure that the CEO will be held responsible as the patsy when it all comes down.
So off Lockhart goes to retrieve the boss and return with him. What he finds instead is a series of obstacles that prevent him from even talking to the head of the company. When he’s been shoved aside for his first day, he tries to retreat to the hotel to mount another offensive in the morning. A serious car accident (one of the best sequences in the film) has him wind up back at the sanitarium with his leg in a cast and his boss still almost impossible to find. At every turn, Lockhart seems to run into stone walls and obfuscation. He hears from many of the patients that the sanitarium has been around for years and hears rumors that no one really ever leaves. He also learns about the place’s dark history, involving a baron who, obsessed with the purity of his bloodline, pulled a Targaryen (or Lannister) romance and married his sister. Obsessed with making her fertile, he conducted a series of experiments on his peasants that left them dead and horribly mutilated. Eventually, the peasantry rose up and burned him alive, killed the sister, and threw her unborn child into the well. Y’know—family fun all ‘round.
A Cure for Wellness is smartly designed and directed. There are shots that take advantage of the prevalence of medical equipment and lenses placed throughout the sanitarium, a fact that continually puts the visual look of the film off-kilter. It also contains Mia Goth as a young patient being kept to be cured by the head doctor (Jason Isaacs), whereupon her father will return for her. There is a constant level of creepiness here, something that rarely surfaces, but is manifest in the fact that at multiple times we are not sure if Lockhart’s experiences are real, imagined, induced, or a byproduct of the “cure” that he is being forced to endure.
There’s not a lot of gore here, so in the one or two spots that it shows up, it’s used very well. There’s also one of the most disturbing dental sequences I have seen this side of Marathon Man, which is very clearly the source of that scene.
But is it good? I’m not really sure. There are a lot of ideas here that want to come out, and the premise for the movie reads like something that could have very easily been a season of American Horror Story. In truth, that would have probably been a better solution than the movie that we got. Even at this length, it manages to cut a lot of corners going for the ending. Rather than building up into something really dark and interesting, it goes for the cheap and prurient, the darkest and most shocking ending it could manage in just under two hours-thirty.
I think ultimately that I like the film, but I also think it’s one that’s going to have to brew for a couple of days for me to make a final determination.
Why to watch A Cure for Wellness: There’s a lot of promise in the story.
Why not to watch: It goes pretty much where you think it’s going to go.