Review: ‘A Cure for Wellness’ (but not the symptom)

An interesting idea… stretched an excruciating hour too long.

On the final week of a merger, company CEO Mr. Pembroke (Harry Groener) is required to clarify a few “irregularities” in-person before signing off on it. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young but driven executive offered a boardroom seat in exchange for retrieving Pembroke from a clandestine wellness facility hidden in the foothills of the Swiss Alps — a secretive retreat for the world’s rich and elite to cleanse themselves of toxins and stress. Situated in a castle complex overlooking a small village, legends persist among the residents over a sinister baron, a mysterious fire, and an aquifer with powerful healing abilities. In this setting, Mr. Lockhart quickly begins to suspect there is far more to Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and a special case patient (Mia Goth) than meets the eye.

Director Gore Verbinski has an interesting pedigree when it comes to his choices for films. Well known for quirky character pieces like The Mexican to pioneering PG-13 horror with The Ring — not to mention all three original Pirates of the Caribbean films for Disney and the animated Rango — he’s had misses with The Weather Man and The Lone Ranger. Looking to recapture both his horror vibe and something of a new success, does Wellness have the cure for what ails him?

With sweeping imagery, haunting music, and an idea pre-built for a foreboding gothic horror, this mid-budget concept piece should have worked — you’ll want it to work — but it flails so long through the middle that even the much-deserved comeuppance ending isn’t enough to redeem it. The second act has too many ideas stuffed into it, both toward solving the central mystery and periodic “escapes” to other locations seemingly to change up the venue. By the time we get to the big reveal and climax, it all just sort of happens without much reason or effort — a fitting metaphor for the entire film.

The muddled middle act is like a repeating loop. Lockhart wanders out onto the grounds, spots something or someone of interest, ends up getting caught and/or disciplined somehow, then deposited back into his room — no cuffs, no bonds, no locked door — ready to venture out in a new direction moments later or whenever he wakes up. Why is no one watching this guy? It’s like watching someone play a single-player mystery puzzle game who is really bad at it, mercifully reaching the end of the game because they’ve literally exhausted every red herring, side quest, and whatnot.

Dane DeHaan plays the go-getter executive far more convincingly than his Valerian hero stint, but Jason Isaacs is almost a waste with too little to do. Eagle-eyed viewers might notice “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” evil germaphobe ex-mayor Harry Groener, and it’s difficult to pin down who or what Mia Goth is from scene, but you can’t say she isn’t interesting. There are also plenty of creepy orderlies doing creepier stuff and plenty of older folks “turning the other cheek.”

For the intrepid, no spoilers; there’s actually something cool, cruel, and sinister about the whole thing. Unfortunately, the camera lingers too long on pretty much everything, whether beating a plot point over your head to unnecessarily gratuitous nudity. It’s no mystery that Michael Bay has needed a “no-guy” to talk him out of bad filmmaking; perhaps it’s time we recommended one for Verbinski as well.

A Cure for Wellness is rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, language, and nasty toothaches.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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