It’s not often that I come out of the cinema totally dumbstruck by a film, but Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness certainly took me by surprise. The film follows Dane DeHaan as a young businessman travelling from New York to a Wellness Centre in the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve his company’s CEO. Sounds pretty standard, right? Oh, you’d be very, very wrong.
Right off the bat, there is an unusual atmosphere clouding this film. Verbinski’s opening shots paint NYC as an eerily quiet and empty place; so much so, I was beginning to question the time period in which the film is actually set. Whilst we are most definitely in the present, the uncannily dystopian quality of the film’s first scene is only catapulted to stratospheric heights as DeHaan’s Lockhart reaches the Centre. The location instantly cast my mind to the asylum in Martin Scorsese’s 2010 film, Shutter Island. We all remember that ominous old lady silently shushing Leonardo DiCaprio, right? The patients in this film aren’t quite on that level, but Verbinski creates an unease in the audience that – similarly to Scorsese – sets Cure up as an unnervingly intriguing experience.
Much of the film’s strengths do, in fact, lie in the hands of the director. The term ‘Visionary’ is often banded about slightly too much nowadays, but it is inarguable that Verbinski is deserving of that title. The nightmarish imagery that pervades so many of the shots throughout is captured in such a beautifully disturbing way, you’ll often find yourself wanting to avert your eyes, but realising that you can’t. However, the film does sometimes falter in stringing this imagery into a cohesive plot, with its hallucinogenic narrative interruptions feeling somewhat gratuitous.
"The nightmarish imagery that pervades so many of the shots throughout is captured in such a beautifully disturbing way, you’ll often find yourself wanting to avert your eyes, but realising that you can’t"
Perhaps these shots can feel unnecessary due to Cure’s almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime, which is undeniably longer than the film needs to be. In spite of this length though, there are various plot points that crave further explanation after the credits begin to roll. It is this paradoxical need for more in an already-overlong film that suggests that A Cure for Wellness could potentially work better as a TV miniseries. Nevertheless, there is entertainment to be had in tying those loose threads together yourself – and it is this element of the film that keeps the viewer pondering long after they’ve left the cinema. Well there’s that, and Verbinski’s shockingly horrifying use of eels throughout.
As for the acting in A Cure for Wellness, DeHaan carries the film well, solidifying opinion that he is a truly skilled actor. Adding further talent to the cast are supporting roles from relative newcomer Mia Goth, and a spine-chilling Jason Isaacs as the Centre’s director. Seriously, Lucius Malfoy, eat your heart out. Dr Volmer is in a new level of creepy.
Regardless of the film’s obvious merit, there will be plenty of people turned off by A Cure for Wellness. Too weird, perhaps. Too long? Maybe even too graphic, in parts. However warranted these criticisms may be, Verbinski’s stark originality deserves applause in an industry where this is all too rare.
You might want to leave off any trips to the aquarium for a while, though… you really won’t look at eels in the same way again.
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