What the bloody hell was all that about? My first reaction after exiting the screening of A Cure for Wellness on a weekday evening. Well, that and a bad back and a numb arse as the film goes on for-f***ing-ever! Director Gore Verbinski needs to hire a more ruthless editor because without a shadow of a doubt there is at least 45 minutes that could and should be cut out with a pair of garden shears.
Bar the first, excellent film, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga which seem to lumber on for around 24 years each. The rest of his back catalogue isn’t much better. Verbinski is like Quentin Tarantino without the wit, brains or entertaining dialogue.
The trailer’s for Verbinski’s latest feature were intriguing but vague on the subject matter. You could etch out a rough plot from what we see in a one minute and forty-second video: Dane DeHaan’s young, financial executive, Lockhart heads to a remote spa retreat in the Swiss Alps to retrieve CEO (Harry Groener) who appears to have lost his mind – as well as being the former demonic and villainous mayor of the town of Sunnydale, California.. Lockhart is then entrapped by seemingly sinister Dr Volmer (Hello to Jason Isaacs) and attempts to solve the mystery of the facility’s disturbing history.
Seeing A Cure for Wellness in its entirety unfortunately doesn’t make things any clear, despite being around two-and-a-half hours in length and going round the houses about four-hundred times. Past the rather vague plot and the twist that you could see coming from a great distance with a telescope I still have no idea what the film was about. Loose-ends were left untied, the storytelling was shambolic and on more than one occasion the film lapses into the worst elements of Hammer Horror: That overcooked melodrama that spins off into campy silliness detracting from the scares.
And I come back to the length of the thing once again. 146 Earth minutes. Great horror films generally clock in under two hours. They do whatever it is they need to do and get the hell out of there. Between Verbinski and script writer Justin Haythe – a co-conspirator on The Lone Ranger debacle – they manage to tell the tale of a spa holiday from hell I the same timeframe than it took Stanley Kubrick to tell the life and death of a civilisation and the birth of a new species (and everything else) in 2001.
That notion is a ludicrous one. Cut a minimum of 45 minutes from A Cure for Wellness and you have a good film because there is plenty of good stuff in this film. Verbinski, along with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli have an eye for aesthetics for sure. The opening shots of the skyscraper headquarters of financial companies looming over New York against the night sky is beautifully nightmarish.
It calls to mind Lovecraftian nightmares and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The Victorian style medical rooms echoing gothic horror are excellent as the mountain retreat itself. Which should remind you of the Overlook Hotel. And the eels, ergh! If you can’t scare someone, gross them out and Verbinski certainly does that here. Even with my steely stomach, I came over all queasy more than once.
The performances from the three leads are good. Isaacs as our evil doctor with a vaguely European – possibly aligned with Nazis – accent is brilliant in that campy way he can be and Dane DeHaan is a deeply unsettling protagonist, in the best way possible. Mia Goth as the mysterious Helen is a welcome and enigmatic presence, difficult to pin down.
Still, for all the good, there is plenty of bad to make this nothing more than an honourable failure. Moreover, if those of us with a critical eye can’t work out what something is all about after two-and-a-half hours, you wonder where Verbinski and 20th Century Fox are going to find an audience.