A Cure for Wellness
2017. Directed by Gore Verbinski.
A neo-Gothic fable about the self constructed purgatories of obsession, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a brutal existential horror film. Filled with skin crawling compositions, macabre set designs, and absolutely stunning visuals, this is one of the most artistic studio films ever made. Hearkening back to Frankenheimer’s Seconds, what begins as a cautionary tale about the dangers of soul consuming employment glacially devolves into a surreal homage to the boundary pushing renegade films of the 70’s.
Passive protagonists are a tricky enterprise. Dane DaHaan’s Lockhart spends the bulk of the film as a victim, both of circumstance and physical injury. The danger of him being a simple lens through which the story happens is gleefully subverted as the end of the film dovetails with the beginning. DeHaan loses himself inside his role, the corporate lackey on a fool’s errand. Justin Haythe’s screenplay is frequently disjointed, but this is part of Lockhart’s crucible. There are no jump scares and the mystery becomes frustratingly elusive at times, however this is essential for putting the viewer into the main character’s head space. Layer upon layer of discomfort and supposition are brick and mortared around you as you tiptoe through lonely corridors filled with affluent phantasms, upper class vanguard whose distinct lack of concern for anything outside their control is a physical apparition that clings to the walls of the sinister hospital at the heart of the narrative.
Renaissance cinematographer Bojan Bazelli uses a constantly evolving repertoire to frame every shot with undeniable proficiency and palpable dread, using green whispers and blotted reds to consistently undermine the facade of safety. Eve Stewart’s production design is essential, harnessing Grant Armstrong’s art direction and Jenny Beavan’s costume design to create an insular mythology that may or may not be real. Everything hinges on films that came before, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Devils, using each reference to construct a methodical morality play that almost achieves perfection. Regrettably, everything collapses in the final act, and the mystique of the preceding two hours is undone for a cliche’, crowd pleasing resolution. The insidious attributes of German expressionism haunt the bulk of the narrative, from inhuman camera angles to sequences of extreme physical and mental duress, but all of this is undone with haphazard CGI and underwhelming confrontations.
In theaters now, A Cure for Wellness is a genuine horror offering that pilfers heavily from the buffet of classics that came before it. It uses a wealth of genre staples to propel a trove of ideas down a razor sharp path of inconsistencies that render an incomplete masterpiece. If you’re a horror fan, or someone who enjoys psychological turbulence, this will not disappoint. Despite the various flaws that almost threaten its legitimacy, A Cure for Wellness is a unique experience with merits, and sometimes, even a flawed film is worth the price of admission.