A Cure for Wellness (2016)

(On Cable TV, November 2017) There are at least two movies in A Cure for Wellness: The first is terrific, and it shows an impressive blending of modern concerns and gothic horror, as a young corporate executive goes to a secluded health retreat in Switzerland where old secrets accumulate in a deliciously over-the-top fashion. It’s the set-up half of the film and it gets increasingly engaging, what with writer/director Gore Verbinski delivering top-notch atmosphere. It’s a frequently beautiful film to gawk at, and there is a precision to the images that confirms his intent to crank up the tension. Seasoned viewers are liable to love it all, especially as known horror signifiers are used to good extent. Sadly, jaded viewers also suspect what comes next: a far less interesting second half in which some mysteries are explained, many are ignored (or dismissed as good-old hallucinations) and the film keeps going well past the two-hour mark. While A Cure for Wellness is narratively conventional, the third act is stuck trying to make sense of the entire film, and doesn’t quite rise up to the challenge. The coda is particularly disappointing, leaving far too many things up in the air. Other inconsistencies annoy. Dane DeHaan is perfectly suited for the unlikable anti-hero of the first half of the film, but he can’t quite make himself or his character sympathetic enough in the second half. Jason Isaacs is fine as the antagonist, but Mia Goth is generally dull as the heroine. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography remains exceptional throughout, but Justin Haythe’s screenplay is simply a framework. It’s a shame that the film isn’t edited more tightly—there are not reasons why it should be as long as it is, especially given the straightforward script. Still, there’s a lot to like in the film’s best moments, whether it’s an announced nightmarish visit to the dentist, a claustrophobic visit in a water tank, or various bits of body horror and hallucinations. I was reminded of Crimson Peak in that this is a simple gothic horror story told lavishly—except that Guillermo del Toro knows how to layer depths and ensure that the details are consistent, neither of which are particularly solid in this case. A Cure for Wellness does get a marginal recommendation, but mostly for its first half and mostly for horror fans—it doesn’t quite manage to go farther than that for other audiences.

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