A CURE FOR WELLNESS
A Cure for Wellness was Verbinskis first film after the critical and commercial flop of The Lone Ranger. He co-wrote the script with Justin Haythe, the screenwriter of The Clearing (2004) and Revolutionary Road (2008), who had performed uncredited co-writes on The Lone Ranger. The film premiered in 2016 and received a commercial release in March 2017 where it disappeared after public disinterest (a miserable $8 million at the US box-office) and mediocre reviews.
I found A Cure for Wellness well-made but frustrating. One of the biggest frustrations is that the film comes with a butt-numbing runtime of 146 minutes but for a long time the film never puts a finger on what is going on. Dane DeHaan arrives in Switzerland and sets out to find missing executive Harry Groener only to find that everyone there, including Groener, regards the sanatorium as a place they never want to leave. He himself is made a patient after a car crash and there seems an active conspiracy to stop him from leaving. He sets out to determine what is happening but it is over two hours of screen time before we get to the point where we ever do find out.
Gore Verbinski, when he wants to, is capable of a very stylish cinematographic eye. This is on full display here be it opening images like Craig Wroe collapsing at the office and his body lying surrounded by roomful of lit-up computer screens, or of Dane DeHaans journey to the sanatorium aboard a train, which is reflected off the mirrored glass window as the train crosses a bridge and enters a tunnel. The film was shot on location in actual castles and sanatoriums in Germany (as opposed to Switzerland) and these come with beautiful shots of the patients in mist-covered grounds and surrounded by drop-jaw mountain scenery. There are some dazzling images later in the show with the patients in white robes holding candles at they surround the wedding ceremony from the wall of a small courtyard, or of a ball with dozens of figures in white robes all dancing.
For more than half the show I was not even sure whether it was one where I was going to write it up. Certainly, Gore Verbinski does offer some effective horror images a roomful of dead bodies floating in glass tanks where Dane DeHaan is then startled to find that the corpse of Harry Groener is still alive; a nasty scene where DeHaan is imprisoned to a dentists chair and one of his front teeth is drilled out where Jason Isaacs explains that giving him anaesthetic would interfere with his treatment. Theres another nasty scene later in the show where Jason Isaacs hooks Dane DeHaan up in an iron lung machine and place a huge funnel down his throat and starts pumping an IV container of water filled with eels down his throat although given the amount of water being pumped, part of you wonders how DeHaan manages to go through the rest of the show without any gastric or bladder upsets or why his stomach doesnt literally explode with eels.
[PLOT SPOILERS] The main problem for me is that the film creates an intriguing backstory, one that seems to change with every time it is recounted. This features in at the ending, although it is never entirely clear how Jason Isaacs had developed the eels as some form of longevity/rejuvenation treatment and how these related to Mia Goth. Nor was I able to recall that any of these explanations offered a reason for why Jason Isaacs pulls off his facemask to reveal he has a green lizard face. The big explanation felt underwhelming. In the end, despite the impressive budget that has been thrown at it and Gore Verbinskis undeniable style, A Cure for Wellness is no more than a 1940s B-budget mad scientist film where Jason Isaacs role would have mandatorily been played by either Bela Lugosi or George Zucco. There you cannot help but think the 1940s counterpart (most of which had runtimes of around 70 minutes) would have gotten through everything in half the amount of time this does.