Contemporary Review / Review

A Cure for Wellness

by Joshua WiederDirector Gore Verbinski is, to say the very least, an interesting fellow. Anyone who’s seen the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, which become progressively stranger as the series goes on, can attest to his bizarre style. At World’s End, the third film in the series (and the last one he directed), is usually thought of as being a weak entry in the series, but I find myself looking back on it as my favorite. The film bleeds style, and the strangeness of it is really what draws me in. Most of all, you can’t ever be sure what Verbinski is going to throw at you next when it comes to the film’s narrative and visual structure; Rango delivers a similar effect. So, when I stepped into A Cure For Wellness, I was expecting to be surprised… And I certainly was.

The film’s simultaneously inconceivable and enjoyable story concerns the bizarre misadventures of a young business man named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) who finds himself responsible for retrieving a higher-up at his firm from a mysterious “wellness center” in the Alps. Upon arriving, he is bewildered by the nature of the spa, and so endeavors to unravel its mysteries, of which it seems there are hundreds. Through the plot, the film delivers intrigue, palpable tension, and the occasional hilarious mishap.

I expect that most general audience members leaving this film will be very confused and put-off. This can largely be attributed to the film being confusing and off-putting (go figure). If body horror, incest rape, suicide, or horrifyingly gruesome violence makes you uncomfortable, then this is a film you should take care to avoid. Beyond that, the story falls apart under the weight of its own complexity. Throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the film attempts to establish Lockhart’s character as a cutthroat corporate mogul in training. It also includes his dysfunctional relationship with his deceased mother, his father’s suicide and his coming to terms with himself. However, none of these strangely included plot devices ever really develop into anything meaningful, and Lockhart’s personality mostly falls by the wayside. A character who is unlikable at the film’s outset becomes a self-insert once the story gets going. At the beginning of the film, the narrative sets up anti-corporate sentiment, but this collapses into irrelevance by the end. So many story elements are set up and then abandoned, so many motifs and images go unexplained, and so many character traits are disregarded. Additionally, the payoff to the richly teased mystery is satisfying at first, but completely nonsensical under even the slightest examination.

Despite all of these issues (and I’ve only scratched the surface), I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. What kept my engagement alive was the sheer unpredictability of the plot and visuals. I dare not spoil any of the film’s absolutely insane story, but in terms of tone, the screen takes you on a journey from a darkened city to an idyllic mountain spa, and finally lands firmly in the tonal signature of a victorian vampire film.

It’s very difficult to describe why I like this film so much. Perhaps it’s in the strangeness, or maybe it’s the scatterbrained, expressionistic visual structure. That being said, I would say that it is definitely not for everyone. In fact, I would say that it’s for very few people. If the strange language conveyed in the trailer appeals to you like it did to me, consider checking this movie out, but do not go in expecting a genre film, be it drama, horror, thriller, or whatever else it is the marketing behind this film desperately tried to convince us it was. In actuality, A Cure for Wellness is entirely a product of its director’s twisted vision, full of entertainment (for those who enjoy having no idea what to expect and can handle the aforementioned challenging themes/imagery), but without much substance.

3 out of 5 stars

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