I wanted to see this movie because its premise sounded so intriguing. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a young executive at a financial firm, is sent to the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company’s CEO. The director has gone to a spa, a wellness center in the mountains, and apparently lost his mind. Lockhart travels to Switzerland to find his CEO, but finds as well that the spa’s treatments are not quite what they seem.
The reason the firm thinks that their CEO has gone nuts, is because they receive a letter from him, in which he describes an epiphany that he had about humankind. Something about that humans walk around for too long with sickness in their minds, an then their body starts protesting as well. The young Mr. Lockhart meanwhile is shown as an ambitious but morally shady upstart. Clearly, this story has something to do with moral behavior.
The film’s cinematography is excellent from the start. Good camera angles and image compositions keep every shot interesting to look at. The scenes have a nice pace to them. Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) is an experienced filmmaker with a good feeling for visual world-building and storytelling, and that is immediately apparent. His movies do tend to bloat, though. The Lone Ranger, for example, had a few plotlines too many, and so did all the Pirates sequels. A Cure For Wellness similarly goes on for too long and has too many twists and turns.
But let’s go back to the story. Lockhart looks unhealthy. He is always working; he is unfriendly. Some nebulous idea about ambition pulls him forward. The film drops hints here and there that people are merely dream-walking through life. The film is shot as if it is some kind of Dracula tale, with bleached colors and ominous music. The Swiss spa even has a squeaky rusted gate and legends of murdered noblemen. Similar to Shutter Island (2010), Lockhart is called to this suspect place and dragged into it step by step, in an almost predictable but also quite captivating way. The patients, nurses and head doctor (Jason Isaacs, better known as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies) behave rather strangely, and before soon he finds it difficult to leave.
A Cure for Wellness is visually stunning, and beautifully shot at Hohenzollern Castle and an abandoned hospital in Germany. It’s a tasteful combination of effective suspense and a gothic visual beauty. Some visual effects are little leitmotifs that are repeated through the film, and are sure to stay with me. Some scenes are extremely uncomfortable and gross.
That said, it is about half an hour too long. The descent into madness and captivity takes place step by little step and perhaps a few steps too many. The theme of morality is abandoned halfway through and morphs into something very different: something about childbirth and purity. In fact, the theme of the film is a bit of a mess. It is about all sorts of things, but the film gets stranger and stranger and most of it is creepy for its own sake. The past of the wellness center takes over the entire plot of the film, and Lockhart’s character arc is abandoned. Or, they try to do something with it, but his changes in mentality are hard to understand. Many plot points are not followed up, and the film has about five endings.
In short, a visually stunning film that gets lost in its own narrative catacombs. It starts out as a psychological thriller, but ends up as a gothic horror that goes to far stranger places than make sense. It is worth seeing for the creepy visuals alone and the suspense and strangeness of it, but be prepared for it to keep pushing and pushing your suspension of disbelief.