Maybe you’ve seen the creepy trailer for A Cure for Wellness. The movie itself lives up to it. It’s so creepy that creepy actor Dane DeHaan seems mostly normal in the central role. I suspect there’s a lot less to this thriller than meets the eye, but a hell of a lot meets the eye.
DeHaan portrays Lockhart, a young lawyer for a New York financial services firm with no family and apparently no first name. With his company about to enter into a lucrative merger, Lockhart is dispatched to retrieve the company’s founder (Harry Groener) from the place where he’s been writing unhinged letters to the board and bring him back stateside to sign some papers. The place turns out to be a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps that looks unchanged since the time of Carl Jung. Lockhart expects to be there less than an hour, but instead, he suffers a broken leg in a car accident and becomes a patient. Among the old rich people receiving rest cures there, he finds a slender girl named Hanna (Mia Goth) with no eyebrows and apparently no shoes who tells him that she’s a special case and that nobody ever leaves this wonderful place.
Gore Verbinski once made another water-obsessed film with his animated comedy Rango. This is far more sinister, as he shoots this thing like a horror film. The sanitarium starts to seem more and more like a prison, with its hyperefficient staffers speaking in robotically soothing tones and taking so much care to hydrate everybody that Lockhart quickly suspects there’s more than just dihydrogen oxide in the water. Verbinski glories in the unnerving little details, as when Lockhart gives a urine sample and then notices the other patients’ specimen jars containing things that shouldn’t be in human urine. We get obscure rituals with patients dressed up in white robes — does anything good ever happen when large groups of people gather in white robes? And if you’re afraid of going to the dentist, there’s a scene here that will make you flee the theater in a blind panic.
Ah, but there’s too much of everything here. The film runs 146 minutes and could have easily been cut down. Verbinski can’t resist the big set pieces, so he pads the thing out with the car accident, a massive fire, hallucinations of giant leeches, and Lockhart stumbling on dozens of patients suspended in tanks of water. Lockhart’s tormented childhood could have been handled far more gracefully. The sanitarium’s dryly businesslike director (Jason Isaacs) is a deflating balloon of a bad guy whose worldview makes no sense, and his icky relationship with Hanna is revealed sensationalistically — compare M. Night Shyamalan’s handling of similar information in his current Split, which is just as powerful without feeling exploitative. Overstuffed and undernourished, A Cure for Wellness is this generation’s version of The Cell, a great-looking piece that can’t sustain its occasional disquieting power.
A Cure for Wellness
Starring Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Justin Haythe. Rated R.