This movie is abnormally intriguing. It has a lot going on, much more than what is playing out visually. If you put some time into the movie mentally, after the flicker is done dancing on the screen, the examination will be well worth it. Your first impression will depend on what sort of audience member you are. If you assess your films by what you immediately see on the surface, you’ll see this cryptic yarn as a promised thriller that doesn’t quite get you where you were hoping it would. It provides the creepy elements that one would expect to see but doesn’t follow through with its promise to be a good intense, if I may, grabber.
The term psychological thriller does apply, however, and in the style of something you’d see straight from a legendary 70’s film. A list to compare its vibe to could be Chinatown, The Conversation, Play Misty for Me and Magic; all superbly shot, well thought out and their impact on cinema… ever lasting.
In A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski, who helped write the story with screenwriter Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road, The Clearing) digs deep into the essential nature of a person to live, care, love and to aid. His protagonist, Lockhart (DeHaan), is sent by the financial institution he works for to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who is nestled in the Swiss Alps at a mysterious wellness center. He goes to retrieve Pembroke, knowing full well that the true desire of the board members is to pin its problems on him and use him as a fall guy.
On his way to the center, which uses hydrotherapy from an aquifer with unique purities, he learns of the center’s history and of the castle its inside. As he speaks to the chauffeur who is taking him to the castle, they’re in an accident and Lockhart ends up a patient himself, waking three days after a crash that had sent the car tumbling. Continually being urged to drink the water to better heal his broken leg, he finally grabs some crutches and wanders around the place, not only looking for Pembroke but looking around this odd establishment. From what he recalls the chauffeur saying, his suddenly odd and dark dreams and the behavior of the people around him he begins to feel more like an inmate in an insane asylum than as a willing patient.
When Lockhart meets someone by the name of Hannah (Goth), a special patient who has been there all her life, the story of the institution unravels more and more and Lockhart’s questions get larger and larger. Becoming suspicious that all is not well and obsessed with finding out more he suggests it’s bad for business for people to get well. This does not go well with Volmer (Isaacs) who insists Lockhart needs to be submerged in water and the toxins in his body be removed. This is a macabre scene as memories of Lockhart’s childhood and eels, yes eels, assault him.
So, my final take is there are a few disturbing scenes that play out and some I may never purge but for crazy good, alluring cinema, see A Cure for Wellness. It may not be Oscar worthy, but cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (King of New York, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Ring), couldn’t have shot this film more methodically and used his lens more perfectly to concentrate on the beauty of the set and the locations and also to create the feeling of anxiety and stress. It’s a masterpiece cinematically. What might have otherwise been seen as a clichéd tale by the end is made infinitely more interesting by camera angles, shots sizes and expressions he creates as well as the overall tone he designs. Again, by the time you finish watching it, you could be somewhat disappointed but don’t be. Yes, Verbinski could have decided on an ending before two hours had expired but enjoy the fact that there is a much deeper theme going on than first thought and you’ll get there, too. You’ll contemplate whether this person is alive, is this a dream, it that person in a coma? Decide for yourself and let me know what YOU thought!