Marking director Gore Verbinski’s return to the thriller/horror genre, A Cure for Wellness is a marathon of a movie both in sheer length and the narrative structure. This highly stylized film is full of breathtaking cinematography, haunting sounds, and gorgeous set/costume design that make it a standout of the year. Yet, where A Cure for Wellness stumbles is in the actual story as for every beautiful set piece there is an unnecessary scene that could have easily been cut.
Our story follows up and coming businessman Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) who is sent by his company to bring home the owner (Harry Groener). This man is located in a large spa within the Sweedish mountains that is at face value a place for the rich and famous to go and remove the stresses of modern day life. Upon his arrival, Lockhart suffers an accident and is thus emitted into the facility where he begins treatment to heal his leg. However, as Lockhart learns about the dark past of the facility he begins to realize that not everything may be as it appears and that there is more at stake than just “healing” people.
Verbinski’s plot is a solid one that plays nicely with the themes of deception and self-discovery, as Lockhart’s journey to discover the secret behind the pseudo hospital is compelling enough to drive the story forward. While it may be clear from the outset that nothing is as it seems, the actual screenplay takes it time to let every mystery slowly unravel before the viewer. This is both one of A Cure for Wellness‘ greatest strengths and weaknesses, as the rich world building does lend itself to produce some seriously haunting and fascinating moments. Yet, there are entire scenes that serve no real purpose to the movie’s core story other than “Hey look at this creepy thing.” Sadly, the former happens a bit more than it should, with entire sections such as a reoccurring bit with a toilet that doesn’t deliver a payoff that’s truly meaningful.
A Cure for Wellness has a bad habit of effectively restarting Lockhart’s predicament multiple times within the movie. More than twice does he confront the hospital’s intimidating head doctor Volmer (Jason Issacs) about discovering the newest twisted secret about the building only to effectively be reset back to square one. This is utterly frustrating as it simply wastes the time of the viewer and just ends up artificially bloating the length of the movie. It simply serves as a way for Verbinski to showcase his next insane set piece or horrific moment.
However, where A Cure for Wellness truly succeeds is in these crazy setpieces that waiver between reality and a dreamlike state. This is clearly on purpose due to the central themes of the film, however, it allows him to construct moments such as Lockhart being locked in a sensory deprivation tank and a rather brutal scene involving some seriously questionable dentistry. It’s these moments that make A Cure for Wellness worth the watch as you’ll constantly find yourself awestruck by the elaborate methods that the director decides to take this film.
Much of this is thanks to the jaw-dropping cinematography that feels lovingly crafted as each scene offers something new for the audience. Whether it’s the sleek, coldness of New York City or the gorgeous mountains surrounding the hospital, there is a visual splendor to behold in A Cure for Wellness. This is only backed by a truly haunting score that masterfully balances the lines between tension and tranquility, which helps lend weight to some of the scarier moments that take place. However, those searching for traditional horror they will leave disappointed as there are almost no jump scares in this movie, with most of the terror relegated more towards the overwhelming feeling of dread than anything.
Because of this, much of the weight relies solely on the cast’s shoulders and thankfully they do a great job with the material they’re given. While Lockhart and a mysterious young girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) have fantastic on-screen chemistry, it’s Issacs that steals the show. Instead of simply leaning into the role, there is a lot of nuance and believability to Volmer which makes him truly frightening. He, regardless of the situation always seems to be one step ahead regardless of what Lockhart discovers. This not only makes Volmer a worthy antagonist but creates an air of hopelessness that weighs heavily throughout most of the first and second act.
There is a bit of a weird turn at the very end that doesn’t feel in line with the rest of the film, however, it’s so brief that it hardly makes much of impression. Yet, A Cure for Wellness feels like a movie that desperately wants to be a book, as the middle is especially drawn out with an exhausting amount of unresolved plot points, characters, and moments that feel like they require further dissection. If you can get by the bloated runtime, there is a lot of fun to be had with this movie as it offers enough fun moments to keep the story from every growing dull. While this movie does suffer some ailments, it’s not enough to be fatal and require a trip to the crematorium.