If A Cure For Wellness was about an hour shorter, I think it could’ve been a pretty compelling psychological thriller. The problem is the film clocks in at nearly 2 and half hours and clearly needed someone to make some cuts before it saw a wide release. For all the things it gets right, the film begins to drag on too many occasions and it mutes any tension it’s generating.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) arrives at the wellness center at the center of the film with a clearly defined job: find his company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener) and bring him back to New York so he can “own up to” some financial irregularities. Lockhart’s job depends on this. After encountering polite resistance from the spa’s staff, Lockhart becomes insistent and his belligerence pays off: he gets to meet Pembroke, who informs him he has no intention of returning to the United States until he is “cured.” On the way back to the village, Lockhart is involved in a car accident. When he awakens several days later with a broken leg, he finds himself a patient at the center. Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who presides over the wellness spa, cares for him personally and assures him that he too can benefit from “the cure” while he’s recuperating. Instead of a place of rest and relaxation, however, the spa becomes a prison for Lockhart, who becomes aware that strange and creepy things are taking place in the restricted areas of the hospital.
The strange and surreal tone is the film’s greatest strength. The visual palette and overall vibe recall a bit of Shutter Island with a dash of Eyes Wide Shut. Director Gore Verbinski succeeds at making the style work and is mainly the reason the film is intoxicating for some of its running time. The strangeness of everything at play also makes the central mystery of the film work better than it probably should. You start off invested in seeing where things are headed but after awhile, the film begins to try your patience.
I’m not sure if this is an issue with Verbinski or the studio but the film drags once it comes up on the 90-minute mark. Before this point, things are flawed but intriguing. Once we get beyond this point, you begin to not care what happens because the film begins to move at a snail’s pace. The film should escalate its tension as it progresses but that doesn’t happen here. The ultimate conclusion also doesn’t offer up any twists or surprises. It appears to be going that way but instead, we get a conclusion that is over the top, campy and predictable. It’s a shame that things go in this direction because the film’s tone suggests something a bit more restrained. The conclusion we get seems like it belongs in an entirely different film.
Dane Dehaan is fine in the lead role but the one thing that is working against him is that the Shutter Island comparisons don’t end with the film’s visual palette. He channels the Leonardo DiCaprio role from that film as well and his choices are eerily similar to the ones made by DiCaprio in the Martin Scorsese-directed effort. DiCaprio was a better “unreliable narrator” than what Dehaan displays here but that doesn’t mean he’s slumming here. He’s believable enough in the part but it’s hard not to make the comparison.
On the supporting end of things, Jason Isaac plays a mad doctor that seems lifted from stereotypes 101. It’s as the role was lifted right out of central casting and Isaac seems to relish in it, even if it’s a bit out there. The only interesting supporting turn is provided by Mia Goth who plays Hannah. Her portrayal is strangely twisted but you can also tell the character is searching for a sense of normalcy as well. There are times when you wish the film spent more time focusing on her because she’s intriguing in a very odd way and she makes you want to learn more about her.
There is a good slow burn horror film in the DNA of A Cure for Wellness but the narrative is too thin and it runs too long to truly work. It’s a shame because the atmosphere is pitch perfect. It feels like it exists in an alternate reality and it does draw you in on that front. Its bigger ambitions make it better than most films released during this time period but ambitions don’t always make a great film. By the end of A Cure For Wellness, you begin thinking about what could’ve been and that’s the real issue with the final product.