A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Grade: C

MOUSE HUNT (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Language, Comic Sensuality and Mayhem

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Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Written by: Adam Rifkin

Starring: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis, Maury Chaykin, Camilla Soeberg, Debra Christofferson, Christopher Walken & William Hickey

MOUSE HUNT has the distinction of being the first-ever family film from DreamWorks. Despite being intended for kids as well as adults, the movie tries too hard to make things equally enjoyable for both age groups but in very different ways. Sometimes, the movie is a well-intentioned and genuinely funny romp that has a surprising level of sophistication around it. About an equal amount, the film turns into a live-action TOM & JERRY episode. Sadly, both approaches don’t blend together well or coherently. There are a decent amount of laughs in the well-intentioned parts of the movie that focus on a creative screenplay where everything doesn’t result in a pratfall.

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Lars and Ernie Smuntz are the two sons of a formerly rich proprietor of a string factory. Leaving not much of an inheritance to his sons (some knick-knacks, a rundown factory, and an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere), Lars and Ernie find their lives upended through two separate acts of fate. Things seem to be changing for the better when the brothers find out that their father’s countryside property is actually the legendary abandoned house of a famed architect that’s worth millions. Blinded by the possibility of a fortune, the Smuntz siblings embark on renovating the house. This process is made difficult and destructive by a mouse that’s smarter than your average rodent.

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MOUSE HUNT has an identity crisis between being a kids movie about a mouse outwitting two grown men or a raunchy comedy that happens to have a seemingly indestructible rodent as a plot device. The former doesn’t work quite as well as it wants to and the latter feels like it’s pushing the boundaries for what’s appropriate in a family flick. There are utterances of notable swear words that I’m sure parents don’t want their young ones picking up. Also there’s frank talk about sex and some risqué humor. One stand-out scene is a moment near the end that made me laugh hard, but didn’t fit at all within the boundaries of a PG-rated family flick. It’s like how CASPER (a film that came out a couple of years prior) threw in curse words for the sake of being edgy and was bound to irritate some parents. I almost always praise family entertainment that takes risks, but there’s also a certain level of content that should be avoided if you’re making a movie that’s specifically geared towards children and MOUSE HUNT rubbed me the wrong way in a few areas.

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The performances from the cast are well above the level of material they’ve ended up working with. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are a good comedic duo and it makes you wonder that if this film had been more well-received, they could have possibly have gone on starring in more family films together. At any rate, they both highlight different styles of comedy. Nathan Lane is Ernie and the more brash of the brothers. Lee Evans delivered more laughs as Lars, but came off as the goofy screw-up. The late William Hickey also makes his last film appearance as their father, seen in one flashback and appearing in a painting with multiple expressions. Christopher Walken also takes a brief cameo-length role that has a few chuckles, but ultimately winds up being entirely pointless. It literally felt like someone felt they should hire Walken for a day to be an exterminator and he’s in the film for about five minutes at the most.

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It may sound like I’m bad mouthing MOUSE HUNT quite a bit. It’s true that I don’t consider it to be a necessarily good movie and I found it a lot funnier when I was a kid watching this on the old-fashioned VCR, but there are still some solid laughs in the film. Ironically, the best scenes don’t involve the title animal at all. The opening is solid enough and showcases dark humor that may have pushed the envelope for kids material at the time. My favorite part is a three-minute bit with Lee Evans at the string factory that was filled with stellar slapstick. I had fun revisiting this movie, but I don’t think I’ll ever go out of my way to watch it again.

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MOUSE HUNT feels too episodic in moving from one set piece to another. It also can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be for kids or adults. It doesn’t seem to have the level of talent down to please both demographics and it’s doubtful to completely satisfy anyone. There’s a fun pieces of slapstick here or there and some jokes are legitimately funny. The actors all do well in their roles, but the identity crisis and confusing tonal shifts of the film will throw many off completely liking it. Nostalgia be damned, MOUSE HUNT is not a good movie. I can say it’s an okay effort that isn’t horrible or mediocre. That’s hardly the praise you’d want for family entertainment though, especially in an era where there are so many better options from the past and present.

Grade: C+

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