Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Cure For Wellness (2017) - Movie Review

As I’ve explained many times before on this blog, there are few things in media that I love more than psychological thrillers. Maybe it’s because I view film as an inherently psychological work, given how it exists to convince the audience that its frequently absurd world is actually real, but I have a real liking for films that set out to mess with people’s heads. I’ve covered the good (Oculus), the bad (Trance) and the outright bizarre (Lost River) over the last couple years, and even at their worst I’d like to think that I’ve shown a certain leniency with this sub-genre. Naturally, when the trailers start rolling out for Gore Verbinski’s latest, I have to admit that I was quite captivated. With its immediately-apparent visual splendour and familiar but still interesting premise, it definitely seemed to tickle that itch for me.
However, one thing that I am learning very quickly is that this is going to be a weird year for expectations in cinema, and this is definitely going to be an example of that. So, while I roar my lungs out in the Angry Dome, let’s get into this shite already.

The plot: Young business executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is asked by the board of directors to go to a “wellness centre” in Switzerland and retrieve the company’s CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener) to sign the bottom line for an important deal. However, shortly after he arrives, a car accident results in him being stuck at the centre while he recovers. As he learns more about the centre, its patients and its practices, he begins to uncover some dark secrets that could lead to danger. That is, if he doesn’t succumb to the centre’s methods first.

There aren’t too many immediately-recognisable faces here, but the few that do all register the same reaction: I want these people to be in good movies again, so why the hell are they here?! DeHaan, in his first mainstream production since the events of “yeah, keep trying to convince me how bad that was” Amazing Spider-Man 2, works rather well in the brain-twisting hoops he’s asked to jump through… even if they frequently get into the nonsensical. Jason Isaacs as the centre’s lead doctor works alright as the shadowy overseer, but as his motivation becomes clear, he falls into half-hearted hamminess that isn’t nearly as good. Mia Goth as the resident creepy young girl of the film is okay, but she barely registers beyond that basic caricature.
Celia Imrie, Groener and the other “too good for this shit” actors playing the patients range from the underwhelming to the if-only-they-were-underwhelming, but honestly, no one actor here comes across as all that bad. In fact, in a film like this, they’re probably the only good thing about it.

There are a lot of different themes floating around in the writing here: Medicine, the evils of capitalism, sexuality, nature and the perversion thereof and of course questioning of one’s sanity at the hands of the overseers. However, this film doesn’t so much weave these into the narrative as it does staple them on either end of scenes of DeHaan wandering around the facility.
Not only that, it seems like a weird distillation of each topic Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe felt like bringing up, resulting in moments that definitely portray said theme but really make no sense in why they are in this film. I mean, when you have a scene of a female nurse disrobing and showing her bare chest to a male attendant, who then proceeds to masturbate in front of her, all while Lockhart is in a water tank being attacked by eels in the same room, you get a definite feeling that something is very fundamentally wrong here. In fact, that feeling presents itself right from the offset when Lockhart gets asked by one of the company directors about having a 12-inch black dick in his arse (I promise you, that is an accurate quote).

The apparent ineptitude with the dealing of its own themes is matched only by its rampant lifting of elements and even entire scenes from other, far better horror films. It starts with a heavy emphasis on water, reminiscent of Verbinski’s version of The Ring to the point where I swear that the Ring itself shows up in a couple of shots, and it only escalates from there. A plot that feels once-removed from Shutter Island, a reveal for the ‘Cure’ that was far better when paired with Frank Thorn screaming on a stretcher, a climax that is literally copied beat-for-beat from the original House Of Wax; it’s rather shameless in how little originality exists here.
I’ve mentioned before how I don’t consider originality to be all that important in the grand scheme of things and how pretty much every film remixes what came before it. However, most films usually have the common sense to hide their influences behind the filmmakers’ own style. While the visuals are rather nice in that very film-school-checklist kind of way, they aren’t nearly enough to hide the seams of the stitched-together innards.

Did I mention that this isn’t even remotely scary? Yeah, on top of everything else, it can’t even engage through basic genre thrills. Apparently this film’s supposed ambition also sticks to its faults because there are several things that make the scares completely inert. The pacing is woeful with the film feeling at least an hour longer than it should be, with the padding being rather obvious with how much seems to happen without any reason to exist other than for shallow thematic ties. That, and the mental stability of Lockhart seems to change on a dime with not one but two scenes where he has completely lost himself to the treatment… and then just picks the mystery back up like nothing happened.
The story, because of how derivative it is, is very predictable, something not helped by how the film puts all the emphasis on the water so we just keep waiting for the shoe to drop on the reveal. I can’t be the only one who hates watching films while hoping that the filmmakers aren’t actually this lazy until they reveal just how lazy they are. Oh, and the psychological horror is botched like no-one’s business, since it fails to really bring that sense of altered reality because, again, we can tell what the reality of the film is remarkably easily. That’ll happen when you not only dare to include a dream sequence jump scare, but also heavily telegraph it as such.

All in all, this would be outright hilarious if it wasn’t so fucking aggravating to sit through. A combination of weak scares, half-arsed attempts at depth and whole-arsed attempts to copy far better horror films to fill in the gaps results in an incredibly unpleasant experience but not even for any of the justifiable reasons. Add to this the fact that this film is about an hour longer than it has any right to be and even the desperately-trying cast aren’t enough to salvage this absolute failure at psychological thrills.


  1. Replies
    1. As soon as it gets a release over here, of course I will.