Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Cure for Wellness

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (Gore Verbinski, 2016)

When a Wall Street financial services firm’s CEO writes that he will not be returning from the Swiss spa where he is vacationing, rising company star Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is called upon to bring him back. In A CURE FOR WELLNESS Lockhart expects to pop into the sanitarium at the top of the hill, get his boss Pembroke (Harry Groener), and go back to New York City, but the staff are not inclined to make things so easy. The spa’s director Volmer (Jason Isaacs) relents somewhat to demands to talk to Pembroke but requires Lockhart to return later in the day to see him. As Lockhart’s driver is taking him down the hill, they are in an accident. Lockhart wakes up with a broken leg and discovers that he’s been admitted as a patient at the spa.

The facility specializes in hydrotherapy but does not seem like an ordinary wellness center, even if accepting that it operates like one might have a century or more ago. For example, it seems that no one who checks in appears to check out ever. Old movers and shakers in international business without family members make up the clientele except for a girl named Hannah (Mia Goth). This place in the Alps is built on the ruins of a castle supposedly burned down by villagers who were outraged by a purity-obsessed baron who wished to marry his sister.

With a mysterious retreat looming over a village populated by resentful residents, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is rooted in a mix of early literary horror and fairy tales. Director Gore Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli find extravagant beauty amid the psychological terror at a resort that would have been the height of luxury in the middle of the nineteenth century. The pale blue and white interiors could function as soothing surroundings for those on the mend, but they also connote something sinister because of the rigid and blank uniformity. The tanks that patients use for rehabilitation look more like torture devices, although the film’s production design turn them into peculiar but aesthetically pleasing marvels of old technology.

The foundation and look of A CURE FOR WELLNESS are inviting in all their polished insidiousness, but the significant characters fail to make an impression. Although Lockhart suffers from a childhood tragedy and an advanced case of a corrupted corporate soul, he is not as complex as the screenplay’s structure tries to make him out to be. He’s also not particularly quick on the uptake regarding all of the strange goings-on at the sanitarium. Secrets surround Hannah, but she doesn’t know them. What gets revealed about her won’t come as a surprise. Isaacs’ Volmer stands out a little more in putting a calm face on a suspicious character, but his character is mostly surface, even if he isn’t to be trusted.

For a widely released major studio film, A CURE FOR WELLNESS has to be one of the weirder offerings to come down the pike in awhile. The sheer oddity helps to propel it through a nearly two and a half hours that aren’t needed. While Verbinski has a few memorably chilling images up his sleeve, especially one for those sensitive to seeing dentistry practiced, the emotional beats fail to connect. He’s striving to evoke the reactions of Grand Guignol but yields a more tepid response.

Grade: C+

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