Imagine an entire film consisting of that creepy video from “The Ring.”
“A Cure for Wellness” is much longer and has a plot, but this is as close as director Gore Verbinski has gotten to the unsettling weirdness he captured in his 2002 hit. Add a dash of sci-fi conspiracy and plenty of perverse Euro-Gothic melodrama, and you have a general idea of what his latest is like.
That still doesn’t do it justice, though. “A Cure for Wellness” is the most audaciously over-the-top studio release in recent memory. Even “Crimson Peak” and the Wachowskis’ recent output can’t hope to compete. It’s hard to say whether this is a good movie or not, as it boldly defies any conventional notions of quality, but it’s certainly memorable.
Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe commit to the madness early, sending overworked businessman Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) to a Swiss mountaintop retreat, where he searches for his company’s missing CEO (Harry Groener). The place is a castle built on the ruins of another castle, with sweeping Alpine vistas and a village full of hostile locals lurking down the hill. Aging executives go there for the healing waters and relaxing “cure” offered by Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs, at his most Jason Isaacsy).
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A car accident turns Lockhart into a patient himself, but even a cast and crutches can’t stop him from exploring the labyrinthine structure in a search for answers.
What he learns is disturbing, gross and silly, in equal measure, all delivered with Verbinski’s signature visual flair. “A Cure for Wellness” is a feast of striking, often beautiful images, interspersed with the stuff of nightmares. Haythe’s story is a perfect match, filled with enough dark histories and plot twists to give Edgar Allan Poe a headache.
Cinematically, it’s in the vein of the surreal Italian horrors of the ’60s and ’70s, so fans of Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci will feel right at home. Verbinski has financial resources they could only have dreamed of, which allows for even bigger excesses. Just when you think he’s gone as far as he can, he pushes even more
Many people will find “A Cure for Wellness” off-putting, even infuriating, and it’s hard to blame them. It will either be a cult classic or a colossal failure — maybe some combination of both — but it will never be a mainstream success. Verbinski has had that in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, and he’s well past caring what anyone thinks. There’s something admirable about that, no matter the outcome.
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
‘A Cure for Wellness’
Rated R. Time: 2:26.