Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content and Images, Sexual Content including an Assault, Graphic Nudity, and Language
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Justin Haythe
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Ashok Mandanna & Harry Groener
A CURE FOR WELLNESS was one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. The trailers promised a gruesome, macabre trip into a super freaky insane asylum. That alone was enough to sell me on seeing this film, but talented director Gore Verbinski and two solid actors seemed to further sweeten the deal. Unfortunately, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a mixed-bag of a horror-thriller. This film has its moments, but frequently undermines them with an epic-length running time and a scrambled script that simply doesn’t work.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young business executive who’s been sent on an errand by higher-ups at his company. He must retrieve mentally unstable CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener) from a mysterious “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps or face dire legal consequences. The desperate Lockhart’s errand becomes a nightmare when it becomes clear that the strange spa is hiding dark secrets. After a car accident, Lockhart is committed as an unwilling patient into the wellness spa and begins to discover that he may not make it out alive. Hallucinations, nightmares, radical therapy techniques, creepy staff, strange secrets and lots of eels come out to play.
Much like the plot’s setting, A CURE FOR WELLNESS appears to be a well-crafted horror-thriller purely from superficial qualities. The cinematography is magnificent and the soundtrack is appropriately spooky. A threatening atmosphere keeps a stranglehold on the viewer for the first 45 minutes and things soon give way into boredom. One of CURE’s biggest problems is its bloated running time. There have been fantastic epic-length horror movies in the past (THE SHINING is nearly three-hours-long and stands as one of the best horror films ever made), but CURE FOR WELLNESS is far from fantastic or even good. The film’s length eats away at its promising premise and has lots of dull spots where nothing much happens.
That’s not to say that WELLNESS is free of disturbing set pieces because there are a handful of horrifying moments. A grisly scene of dental torture is downright cringe-inducing and an isolation tank treatment gone wrong is the film’s most intense sequence. There are enough eerie shots to compose numerous kick-ass trailers and scary TV spots that will sell people on seeing this film. However, these good bits are contained within a messy plot that jarringly switches tones during its final third (becoming a would-be fairy tale for no apparent reason) and revealing clues early on that seem way too obvious.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS cannot decide whether it wants to be a scary-as-hell horror movie, a psychological head-trip or a supernatural drama. This uneven mix boils down to a bladder-testing story that constantly feels muddled and makes the viewer pray for something (anything) to happen. Unfortunately, when something happens in the second half it seems screwed up for all the wrong reasons. The film’s CGI is mostly well-done with two big exceptions. The eels (there are lots of them) look real in many situations, but a cartoonish deer pops up in the first third and there’s a terrible looking effect that is revealed in the silly climax. This is made all the more disappointing because Gore Verbinski was clearly utilizing a careful eye behind the camera in constructing cool visuals and (what he believed) to be a creepy horror flick.
Dane DeHaan is good in moments as business-oriented Lockhart, but mostly seems like a bland protagonist. His so-so acting might be attributed to the film’s unbearably dull length and confused direction from Verbinski. Jason Isaacs (mostly known for playing Malfoy’s dad) is super creepy as the wellness center’s head doctor, but goes extremely over-the-top in the final act. Mia Goth makes a strong impression as a “special case” patient and I honestly cannot wait to see what she does in the upcoming SUSPIRIA remake. The staff members and other patients are appropriately creepy, but DeHaan’s character’s boardroom bosses are laughably over-the-top.
I was sick for a terrifying asylum-based horror flick and A CURE FOR WELLNESS far from cured what ailed me. There are positive qualities in this movie. The first 45 minutes are well-done, the cinematography looks phenomenal, Mia Goth is a stand-out, and the film has a few great moments. However, these are mostly overshadowed by a ridiculously bloated running time, a script that doesn’t know what it wants to be, overly predictable clues laid out for the viewers in advance, and a ludicrous final act that leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth. If you truly feel that you must see this film, then I’d advise you to wait for a rental or (better yet) an airing on TV. Otherwise, you’ll likely feel sick from spending valuable money and time on a disappointing horror flick that wasted great potential.