Gore Verbinski’s latest, the creepy “A Cure For Wellness,” seems destined to be a cult horror classic, reminiscent of Dario Argento’s ‘80s Giallo films. There’s an insanely twisty plot full of gruesome imagery, slithering deadly animals, a cult, and it all takes place in an isolated town in Europe. Verbinski adeptly takes this surreal style of horror and turns it into something realistic and viscerally scary, thanks to his actors’ strong performances and excellent cinematography.
“A Cure For Wellness” follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a greedy Wall Street employee eager for a raise, as he is tasked with bringing his boss back from a Swiss hospital in order to complete a merger. It seems simple enough, but when he gets to the hospital, Lockhart ends up becoming a patient at the hospital. The hospital, located in a picturesque Gothic castle, is full of secrets that are revealed to us as Lockhart befriends its patients. As Lockhart sees the other patients get sicker, has a terrifying experience in a sensory deprivation tank, experiences hallucinations, and sees an orderly dragging a cart through castle grounds every night, he decides that he needs to escape, which angers the hospital’s director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who wants him to be interned indefinitely.
DeHaan, pale, with big blue eyes, and even bigger purple eye-bags, is well-cast as the exhausted and questionably ill Lockhart, as he realistically shows the character’s growing intense desperation. Mia Goth, playing Hannah, Volmer’s ward, displays the character’s creepy innocence better than other actors, with her soft voice and Tim Burton character look. But Isaacs is the real standout, playing Volmer as a campy, almost manic villain, which helps bring some much needed lightness to the film.
While the whole plot seems overdone — there have definitely been hospital escape horror movies before — this one is genuinely scary. The hospital appears idyllic, with its beautiful views of the Swiss Alps and colorful shots of identically dressed patients playing croquet and doing water aerobics, but we are slowly given more and more hints that something more sinister is at work. These relaxing scenes begin disappearing as the film goes on, and are replaced by Lockhart fighting to escape, which makes you feel increasingly anxious and tense. Verbinski’s camera work adds to this atmosphere, as he slowly builds up to jump scares that had people actually jumping in their seats.
“A Cure For Wellness,” is a nearly perfect horror movie, but the pacing and long run time (2 hours and 26 minutes) might be enough to dissuade some people from watching it. The slow pacing is necessary for many of the horror elements, and is enjoyable, as there is always a payoff. But the film feels at least 15 minutes too long, which is probably the result of having such a complicated plot and the need to tie up all the loose ends. Ultimately “A Cure For Wellness” is not a revolutionary film, but it is a fun homage to classic horror.
Photo: 20th Century Fox