I must start off this review by saying this is one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. The synopsis put out by the studio does not do the film justice; which reads: “An ambitious young executive 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. 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 here longing for the cure.” Please note that the synopsis put out by the studio says nothing about audience members questioning their own sanity during the viewing of this movie.
Imagine for a moment a room full of executives over at 20th Century Fox. In front of every one of these men and women are piles of scraps of paper with scribbled notes of things a general movie going audience would find creepy and unsettling. One note says “creepy anorexic looking people,” one says “mind control,” another says “iron lungs” one says “old hospital with steam rooms” one says “body decay” and another scrap of paper says “lots of eels.” These highly-paid men and women then put these ideas in a hat and take turns pulling these random concepts out of a hat and laying them out on the table in the same order in which they were drawn. Lastly, they take a picture of this “timeline of creepiness,” add a footnote to the picture that says “make the film look really good, very unsettling, and add a few of your good ideas” then email said photo to screenwriter Justin Haythe, director Gore Verbinski, and lead actor Dane DeHaan – BOOM! You have the makings of A Cure for Wellness.
I say all of this in hyperbole, hopefully, but this film feels like it was crowdsourced from one unsettling scene to the next. In doing so some of the creepy scenes work out very well, but then they are followed up by something random and out of place – it completely takes you out of the movie. There is no structure, rhyme, or reason for half of the things displayed on screen. By the time we get to a scene where eels are pumped into the stomach of our main protagonist I feel I should know why it’s happening. And I should defiantly know why by the end of the movie. Alas, as of writing this review I am still wondering why I was meant to watch this scene that seemingly has no reason for being in the movie. Maybe I missed reason for filling someone’s stomach up with sea-slitherers while trying to figure out other strange happenings I was forced to watch by this point – but that just goes to prove just how much stuff the filmmakers are forcing you to digest all at once.
I can see what Verbinski was going for – an extravagant homage to films such as Shutter Island and The Shining. But unlike those films, I don’t really care about these character’s situations or how they are going to make it out alive. That’s something that I feel that I should have cared about! Especially when watching them go through this amount of physical and psychological trauma.
The runtime on this movie is ridiculous as well. Verbinski somehow, miraculously, made a two-and-a-half-hour long film turn into four hours – at least that how it felt. I don’t remember ever checking the time more in any other movie than I have this one. And it all leads up to a conclusion that I still don’t quite understand, making those two-and-a-half-hours (let’s call it 4 hours) feel wasted. If I’m being made to sit in a theater that long, and witness what I had to, there better be a damn good ending. But it was questionable at best.
Which is a shame because there were probably three different instances where I thought the movie was wrapping up nicely and I thought to myself, “huh, that is an interesting way to end on a cliff hanger, but not bad.” But then those thoughts were followed up by, “wow, this is still going…. why?”
As I briefly stated already, there are some good ideas in A Cure for Wellness, and they profoundly help the film to not be a 110% train wreck. In fact, I would say these small golden nuggets (good ideas) hidden among the metaphorical eel excrement (better known as bad ideas) did keep me curious as to when I would get some big reveal. And it kept my interest for the majority of the film because I felt I had something to look forward too.
I do have to mention that the visuals are amazing. I would say they were the biggest positive takeaway in this film. Several shots I honestly believe could be framed and hung on a wall. The locations shot for the movie are gorgeous, and the ability to capture symmetry throughout is honestly impressive. But for every breathtakingly beautiful shot of eye candy I get a follow-up shot of some gross close-up shot of an old naked person, or an eyeball through magnifying glass for no reason at all.
Overall, I would say this movie is not worth watching in the theater. If it makes its way to Netflix it may be worth a watch. Or if you feel like playing some psychological prank on your friend by telling them to wait until the end to get a big philosophical payoff, just to laugh at their “WTF am I watching” face for an entire afternoon, then maybe check it out. Other than those two instances, don’t waste your time. My score for A Cure for Wellness is a 1.5/5.