The first act of A Cure For Wellness could barely do much more to make Dane DeHaan’s lead character Lockhart less likeable. A Wall Street up and up with not a care in the world other than his own ambitions, he’s arrogant, cold, and he deserves all of the woes that come his way. And yet even after nearly two and a half hours (!) of seeing him slowly creeping about from bad to worse situations, I still didn’t ever feel inclined to start rooting for him. The problem is that he never learns from the error of his ways. He’s just as arrogant in the end as he is in the beginning.
Lockhart’s non-starting path to redemption comes when he travels to an isolated “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps to bring home his company’s mentally ailing CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener) so that he can lump the blame on him for his own fudged business accounts. The facility itself that provides the film’s setting is, admittedly beautiful, a medieval castle set against snow-capped mountains, overlooking an idyllic (but troubled) village. It’s shot rather gorgeously, all sweeping landscapes and mirrored images for the exterior scenes, whilst the interior becomes far more claustrophobic, assisted by the hauntingly clinical design of the sanatorium itself.
There’s plenty of atmosphere, yet that does not necessarily translate to tension. Visually striking though it may be, director Gore Verbinski simply doesn’t twist the knife as much as you’d hope. It’s likely to bring memories of Shutter Island flooding back, however it certainly won’t live as long in the memory.
Inside the walls of the facility the patients speak of the wonders of the hydrotherapy treatments on offer, with Mia Goth’s mysterious Hannah begging the question, “why would you want to leave?”, but still, naturally there’s more to the place than first meets the eye. Or, at least, more than meets Lockhart’s eye, that is. He might take a little while to catch up, but I doubt anyone else will. Everything is laid on so thickly that the inevitable reveal of darker deeds can be seen coming a mile off. As can the villainous nature of Jason Isaacs’ Dr. Heinreich Volmer, the “spa” director. Well, it is Jason Isaacs! This meaning that despite the game of one-upmanship that the film plays with itself, it never gets close to feeling scary.
It’s a downward spiral of a movie, going from moderately interesting, to tone deaf, all the way to outright horrible (and ridiculous) come the close. I can deal with mediocrity; this though just feels like an exploitative misfire.
Rating (out of 5):