Movie Review: A Cure for Wellness

Strange goings on at Swiss spa offer a puzzle with a perhaps too puzzling ending

A Cure for Wellness
Directed by Gore Verbinski 
With Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

The slightly exotic world of health spas gets even stranger in A Cure for Wellness, a psychological thriller that creates its own alternative reality.

A company is planning some sort of merger and needs to get one of its executives to sign some forms, but the executive has vanished into an exclusive Swiss spa and sent a bizarre handwritten letter that throws his sanity into question. A young executive who faces a potential scandal of his own is forced to go to the spa to retrieve him. Instead, he too gets caught up in a surreal chain of events and finds himself a virtual prisoner.

The tone from the start is unreal, similar to films by David Lynch, Christopher Nolan or Terry Gilliam, where things are just a bit off. There is a weird secret at the spa, but few of the patients / inmates seem concerned. Bit by bit, the young executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) pieces together the history of the spa, which seems to still be impacting on current events. There are no end of mysteries to be unraveled. Patients come and nobody ever leaves, yet the spa is not crowded. Large areas are off limits. Strange eels seem to turn up everywhere, but may just be hallucinations.

And there is a young woman, Hannah (Mia Goth), who has been there her whole life, but all the other patients are elderly. She is not sure why she is there, but remembers no other place.

When Lockhart finally finds the man he is looking for, Pembroke (Harry Groener), things just get stranger. One of the patients, Victoria Watkins (Celia Imrie) is looking into the history of the spa and drops some hints to Lockhart, but others at the spa try to keep some facts hushed up. Leaving the spa, which is isolated on a mountain top behind high gates, is no easy task either.

The film is from a script by Justin Haythe, who also wrote The Clearing and Revolutionary Road and contributed to Snitch and The Lone Ranger. Director Gore Verbinski is best known for three Pirates of the Caribbean films plus the remake of The Ring and the animated film Rango, as well as the box office disaster The Lone Ranger.

They try their best, along with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli to create a credible micro-universe at the spa. The film looks good and from scene to scene holds interest, but in the end is a shaggy dog story with a disappointing resolution. The style is a triumph, but the content turns out to be something on the halfway between a 1960s Gothic horror film and modern medical thriller, without making up its mind about which one it wants to be.

The locations are quite intriguing, with Hohenzollern Castle in Germany standing in for the spa on the mountian, with some shots of the abandoned sanitorium at Beelitz-Heilstätten used for some of the creepier parts. These set a good a mood for the strange goings on.

The lead actors are relatively unknown, so they don't bring a lot of baggage with them. Dane DeHaan has a naturally inquisitive look and elicits quite a bit of sympathy for his plight. Mia Goth as the mysterious young woman has an almost blank face that one can read anything into. She will soon be appearing in the remake of Suspiria and was in Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. The spa staff is led by Jason Isaacs as Volmer, a doctor who is clearly up to no good but exudes that polite Middle European charm as he does terrible things. He was Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, among other roles.

But as the film meanders through several impressively unsettling scenes to its conclusion, the audience gets the feeling they have been hoodwinked a bit. The resolution is just a bit too far out there. In the end, A Cure for Wellness is more about the journey than the destination.

It has much the same feeling as the French thriller The Crimson Rivers with Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, which had a similar mountain setting for its mystery and provided an exciting journey to its puzzling and not fully explained ending.

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