The first note I wrote down about A Cure for Wellness, which I wrote after the film’s opening scene, was as follows:
“Is A Cure For Wellness a masterfully shot slog?”
This notion came out of how the trailer clips and first scene of the film is shot and that I knew how long the film was going to be (this was, I should mention, my second film of the day). So my assumption going in was that this film was going to be a struggle between patience and style.
Is the film a well-shot slog? Well…yeah.
Rising white collar man (Dane DeHaan), referred to throughout the film only by his surname of Lockhart, takes hold of that next rung of the corporate ladder, and as a result is thrown into a legally questionable goose chase for a mentally unstable partner whom the company plans to throw under the bus for an ethical dilemma.
In Switzerland, in a castle on a hill straight out of a storybook fable, people travel to get well. Only, they never seem to come back down the hill. It is here that Lockhart travels to find his MacGuffin, Mr. Pembroke (Harry Groener). And it is here where he signs his life away.
A Cure for Wellness engages in the dreamlike to get across its off-kilter message. The droll moaning score and the winding road leading up to the castle, captured in and out of reflections from a car window. The struggling final steps of a struck buck, glittering glass sticking out of its hide. The mention of a non-normative crossword clue: A 10-letter word for Amnesty (A: Absolution).
It is presented as if a surreal filter is being placed on top of the scenes. This is, quite clearly, by design. A mystery film about sanitariums and the nature of mental fitness pretty much requires such an approach.
A Cure for Wellness is, in this way and based on its premise, not dissimilar to Scorsese’s Shutter Island or Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Although, both of these films ground themselves much differently, and the Ken Kesey story of Cuckoo’s Nest focuses much more on the humanity of its subjects than the inhumanity of their environment as Wellness does.
The true test of A Cure for Wellness‘s quality is a “sum of its parts” game. At a daunting 146 minutes, the film can become a chore as you move into its middle. But certain aspects guide you along. The gorgeous cinematography can account for livening up a dull moment or scene. The script, when it isn’t revealing cracks through heavy-handed lines of dialogue, upholds a decent level of mystery until the climax. Verbinski directs with a highly stylized panache, even if the style far outweighs the substance.
The deliberateness of the film is, on the other hand, to its detriment. The film aims for a cruel inching progression that leaves one uneasy and on edge, but this doesn’t come across as effectively as intended. Instead, the film starts to lose its wind as it goes along, pacing becoming a misused suspense tool.
A Cure for Wellness is a bloated mystery-suspense film that shirks its promise with snail pacing and a script that gives the audience far too much knowledge in comparison to its almost willfully blind protagonist.
The film is full of imagery that is intriguing in concept—phallic eels and blood-water images instigating ideas of sexual maturation, for example—but they never become fully realized in relation to the narrative itself. When the film ends, a handful of images fall into a revealing context, but never in ways that are particularly illuminating. And the rest are merely left by the wayside.
This is the glaring issue with A Cure for Wellness. The film promises an intense experience warranting multiple viewings. There is so much presented visually that it is hard not to wonder what every stunning image means in the larger context. But the narrative of the film is only skin deep in comparison to the visual display. Reveals are never groundbreaking because the script makes an effort to put the answers to the plot’s unfolding right in the viewer’s face.
A Cure for Wellness is a noble effort that is wonderful to look at, if there is enough else there to warrant looking for the entire length of the film. In all honesty, that is a hard sell.
A Cure for Wellness: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)