By Chris Ranta
There’s something about Gore Verbinski’s latest directorial effort, A Cure for Wellness, that intrigued me enough to run out and see it despite the mostly negative response it has been receiving.
The film revolves around a business executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who is sent to a wellness centre in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his CEO. However, once he gets there he learns that things aren’t what they seem. The idea sounds like something with the potential to be truly surreal and wonderful, but unfortunately – it’s never fully realized.
By the time the first 20 minutes went by, the film had me in its grasp at a solely technical level. Verbinski is a visual master, as many of his prior films such as Rango, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even Mouse Hunt demonstrate. Like those, this is such a gorgeous looking film that sets the tone right away with just the cinematography. Throughout the film, hauntingly beautiful shots provide us with a never ending sense of isolation and having no hope for escape, mirroring the thoughts of Lockhart. It’s also very obvious that Verbinski and his cinematographer, Bojan Bazelli, are huge fans of Stanley Kubrick as they successfully emulate shots from The Shining and A Clockwork Orange to great effect. While a certain shot in the first hour of the film is ruined by a laughably obvious CGI deer that appears at the beginning of the film, the otherwise perfect cinematography is more than enough to recommend going to see this film in theatres.
Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is also fantastic. It succeeds in being quite theatrical while not going over the top, and benefits the movie’s atmosphere by creating a plodding and impatient vibe that portrays Lockhart’s impatience for the truth. Wallfisch’s score, full of constant unease, is therefore able to keep us on the edge of our seats, as opposed to taking away from the scares—a common problem in contemporary horror. If you make the scares feel forced and predictable through jumpy zingers or dropping the score where it feels necessary, the fear and tension is commonly lost in films like these. Fortunately, Wallfisch’s music is used to it’s full advantage. Through the cinematography and the score, it’s clear that the filmmakers know how to create an effective atmosphere which reflects our protagonist’s thoughts. It makes the movie all the more disturbing and engaging.
The film’s structure and pacing also harkens back to Kubrick, creating even more comparisons to The Shining. Both films rack up the tension for the first two hours of their runtimes, and then drive themselves through a roaring climax in their final half hour. For Kubrick, it works incredibly well, as the structure parallels the downfall into insanity of Jack Torrence. In the case of A Cure for Wellness, this is where it falls apart. For the first two hours, we’re left in ambiguity wondering if DeHaan’s character is actually right about the wellness clinic or if he really is insane. In the last 20 minutes however, it throws away ambiguity in favour of what I figured was going to be, but didn’t want to be the finale.
The climax feels way too out of place with the rest of the film. It’s incredibly ridiculous and over the top, abandoning any sort of realism found in the first two hours. I would have even been okay with it ending at the two hour mark, which would have been a decent conclusion to the story. I wish Verbinski had taken some notes from movies such as David Lynch’s Lost Highway when crafting the film’s structure. Lynch’s film, a surrealist psychological noir about a man trying to figure out if he killed his wife, allows you to question what is really going on, therefore causing each audience member come out with a different interpretation. Unfortunately, Verbinski chooses to flat out tell you what to think and leaves nothing to the imagination.
While it initially is certainly intriguing as well as a technical marvel, A Cure for Wellness is unable to fully realize its potential to be an amazing piece of psychological horror. Instead, it falls apart at the rather jarring climax and never picks itself up from there. It loses every bit of what made it work in terms of atmosphere, tension and realism in favour of absurdity and convenience.
(Featured Image: A Cure For Wellness, 20th Century Fox)