A Cure For Wellness is one of those films that will make you squirm in your seat, and you’re likely to hear lots of uncomfortable laughter in the theater as you and your fellow audience members are put into some jarring situations. Director Gore Verbinski shies away from basically nothing as he unpacks a bizarre puzzle box of a movie for you.
It’s some of the stuff that he leaves in that box that stops the film from being great, though.
A Cure For Wellness follows Dane DeHaan’s Pembroke as he travels from New York to the Swiss Alps to bring a work associate back home for business matters. He soon discovers that nothing is what it seems, as the sanitarium he visits in order to find his man is a far more sinister place than anyone could’ve imagined.
If you’ve read my reviews before, you likely know that I’m not much for summarizing plots or tossing spoilers around. I know you’re here to simply know whether or not I recommend this movie to you, and what I think it’s strengths and weaknesses are. So I’ll spare you any further plot details beyond what I’ve stated above.
A Cure For Wellness delights in layering one mystery on top of another as Pembroke’s life begins to come apart at the sanitarium. He meets mysterious people, he sees intriguing sights, and he stumbles onto clues that all point in troubling directions. At times, the very lines that separate reality and fantasy blur in ways that make you feel like, perhaps, you should be a patient in that hospital.
The problem is that the film doesn’t satisfactorily answer all of the questions it asks. And I don’t mean that in a high-minded, “It’s up to you to use your own intellect to fill in the blanks” kind of way. I mean it in the, “We’re going to set up a bunch of stuff and then just lazily leave you hanging” sort of way. And that’s unfortunate, because A Cure For Wellness has some great ideas.
On the surface, it’s a story about a man who’s lost his way and nearly loses his mind while trying to survive an insane ordeal. On a more intellectually-stimulating level, the film is an anti-establishment, anti-capitalist allegory that begs people to think for themselves, break away from the pack, make real human connections with the people around you, and rebel against organized institutions.
In many ways, there’s a dark humor to the story that Verbinski would’ve been wise to exploit further. He co-wrote the film, so he’s the ultimate custodian of its tone, but I can’t help but feel that the movie would’ve benefited greatly by having someone like Sam Raimi in the director’s chair doing his Evil Dead best. Some camp and some pulpy in-on-the-joke thrills would’ve helped smooth out some of the movie’s wrinkles.
As it stands, DeHaan’s Pembroke isn’t a particularly sympathetic lead, and so it isn’t always easy to get invested in what’s happening to him onscreen, even as you marvel at the inventiveness of it all. Mia Goth’s Hanna is an intriguing character to be sure, and she brings some genuinely unexpected magnetism to the part. The big scene-stealer here is Jason Isaacs, whose Volmer is a ton of fun to watch. Isaacs brings great verve to the part of the mysterious “mad scientist,” giving him a charming sneer that calls to mind Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. It’s his work, as the film nears its climax, that made me think Raimi would’ve made this whole thing a lot more entertaining.
With that said, I still enjoyed the movie. I found its twists and turns to be entertaining, and I was fairly engrossed by the atmosphere of it all. In an age where it’s easy for films to feel generic and bland, A Cure For Wellness absolutely has enough standout moments to warrant your attention and to get you talking and thinking about it after the credits roll. It’s just a shame that it ultimately glosses over the resolutions of some of the central mysteries it presents.
I can best describe A Cure For Wellness like one of those “Haunted House” rides at a local carnival- The kind where you sit in a little car, make your way through several dark corridors as different kinds of things jump out at you. Sometimes on those rides, they vary the thrills so that there’s a decent combination of cheap and provocative scares. Like those rides, the movie’s got the atmosphere; It’s got the thrills; It has the ingredients for a great escape; But you ultimately know you’re on a linear path to the end of a hallway, and once you get there you’ll wish you could’ve spent more time at some of the more ornate scares you glimpsed along the way.
I’ll also add that, for what it’s worth, its allegorical themes stuck with me for several days after seeing the movie. So there’s some definite meat on the bones in A Cure For Wellness.