A CURE FOR WELLNESS Review: 5 out of 10 (Beautiful Mindless Mystery)
A CURE FOR WELLNESS works as one part gothic horror and one part mystery thriller that feels at one point like a period piece and another like a postmodern fable. Directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe, the film stars Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth. Lockhart (DeHaan) is an ambitious young executive who is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem. After a car accident and a broken leg, Lockhart finds himself trapped in the sanitarium along with a mysterious young girl and some of the zombie-like patients. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests there longing for the cure.
There are a lot of conundrums in the film and more than a few riddles. Unfortunately, the script drops far too many bread crumbs way too early, unraveling most of the "mysteries" before the midway point of the movie. But with a 2 hour and 26 minute running time, that is still quite a bit of movie to sit through when you know how it is going to end. What is worse, is Lockhart doesn't seem to be the brightest bulb. Though it is clear he is being manipulated, he either is too dumb to realize it or too stupid to do anything about it. It is a movie that expects the audience to have fewer wits about them than the main character, and he is about as smart as a bag of rocks. So although the ideas here have ambition, the structure of the storytelling (and the length) keeps it from being effective as a compelling mystery narrative.
Having said that, Verbinski has created an art piece of a movie that is absolutely beautiful to look at. The sanitarium itself is a bit of a maze of cream and jade tiles with mahogany woodwork that seem to stretch endlessly. The hydrotherapy rooms, the pools, the tanks of water for submersion techniques--they all nearly give a sense of being underwater ourselves. There are odd and sharp angles of cameras that practically scream something is awry, offset by deep focus shots of near still life to shock the audience back to a sense of normalcy. There are also a few times of absolute lunacy and shocking visuals, but far too few to consider this movie to be anything that approaches transgressive.
In the end, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a predictable piece of gothic storytelling with a visual palette that far outweighs the story and its structure. There are probably those who will like this film far more, as long as they are willing to forgive the plot holes and less than mysterious narrative. If so, they may find a visual feast on display here. That is no mystery at all.