Though it’s been a decade and a half since he remade the quintessential J-horror gem “Ringu”, Gore Verbinski has never strayed too far from the path of hallucinatory dread throughout the duration of his subsequent career, whether he’s entertaining the misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow or those of a computer-generated chameleon by the name of Rango.
Yet, for all the macabre flourishes those films do indeed possess, one might have desired a return to darker waters for the director; the sort which seem at first to be uncharted and positively delectable. The answer to this is, alas, “A Cure for Wellness”, which is the sort of film that seems to wear its exquisitely dressed grime as if it were a badge of honor.
Following the sudden death of a colleague, we are thrust headfirst into the life and times of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young executive for one of New York City’s most successful financial firms who is given the task of retrieving the company’s CEO from a mysterious wellness center located somewhere in the Swiss Alps where the treatment provided to its many patients (most of whom are the elderly) simply seems too good to be true. Shortly after arriving, he’s ready to get out of there, but a fatal car crash on the way back down the mountain adds a couple days, months, maybe even years to Lockhart’s stay.
Verbinski is no stranger to spectacle, in fact he revels in it, but the prospect of a major Hollywood player such as himself honing his craft for something more appropriately brooding and artful is an enticing one. Bojan Bazelli’s crisp yet sleazy cinematography speaks for itself, delivering the kind of transgressive art-horror aesthetic that is so sorely lacking in mainstream cinema today, and truth be told he conjures more than a few genuinely horrifying images.
However, it’s Verbinski’s indulgences which also prove to be his greatest downfall. In this case, it’s containing his mystery, keeping it as tight as possible. Lockhart is hardly the most immediately sympathetic fellow, which is quite alright, but we’re meant to see the events through not only his subdued vision but occasionally that of a younger patient (Mia Goth) whose own problems are more deep-seeded than the film cares to acknowledge. This is a film that is more interested in the thrill of the kill than it is in more profound emotional engagement, but in the absence of the latter it can feel detrimentally one-note.
Most disappointing of all is that Verbinski and company had the chance, and the resources, to make something more genuinely audacious than this, and seem to be constantly touting that they have. It’s yet another film that feels so very into the notion of allowing differences to define who we are rather than give into certain accepted (but no less toxic) social constructs, and yet at nearly two and a half hours and what with all the ham-fisted exposition and lazy gaps in logic, it’s no more distinctive than the average, overblown multi-million dollar affair; a nasty, decidedly cynical fashion statement masquerading as high-brow psychological horror that could have surely benefitted from a little more humanism to counter its contempt. As much as the desire is there to see more transgressive subject matter explored on a generous budget, this tedium simply isn’t the antidote to that particular drought.