This review was originally published on News Cult in February 2017.

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Director: Gore Verbinski

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Rating: R for Doing Everything It Can to Get Under Your Skin

Release Date: February 17, 2017

A Cure for Wellness is the type of movie I would like to rate 5/5 on the strength of its ambition and singularity of vision but that I must admit its reach exceeds its grasp. It feels like the film that director Gore Verbinski (The RingRangoPirates of the Caribbean) has been waiting his whole career to make. Verbinski has been behind enough hits to have sufficient cachet for a risk here and there, but how he ever convinced a major studio to produce something as dark, disturbing, and inscrutable as Wellness is could prove to be one of the great mysteries in the annals of cinema history.

The whole affair starts out sufficiently intriguing and easy-enough-to-follow: rising financial executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) has been sent to the Swiss Alps to retrieve his CEO, who seems to have lost his mind while staying at a resort with a cult-ish devotion among its clientele. He hot dogs his way into the place, expecting to be in and out in time to catch the red-eye back to New York, but a freak accident results in his unwittingly becoming a patient himself. In a way, this is a long, fantastical PSA about the importance of wearing your seat belt.

Lockhart does manage to get in touch fairly quickly with his CEO, who goes on one of those rants about how it is really the world that is sick but then violently shifts to amenability towards going home. Ultimately, though, the status quo stays in place. This elliptical encounter sets the tone for the whole plot.

A Cure for Wellness sets itself up as a classic gothic European castle mystery with a 21st century anarchic twist. There are movies that have strange elements just for strangeness’ sake, but in this case there appear to be more concrete purposes. What is the motivation of chillingly cool and collected facility director (Jason Isaacs)? Who is this girl (Mia Goth) who is so much younger than all the other residents, and why does she receive preferential treatment? What is the deal with the eels? For the most part, each of these questions is sufficiently answered, but the twists may be too unnecessarily stomach-churning for some viewers. Also, the resolution is painfully stretched out – Lockhart is given an absurd number of opportunities to dish out his revenge.

If nothing else, this exercise in ghastliness is worth it for the beautiful cinematography courtesy of Bojan Bazelli. The days are perpetually cloudy, making for a striking mix of drab, foreboding, and sublime. Tableaux are carefully, lovingly designed – an overhead view of water aerobics may be the shot of the year. This is the world in a microcosm, as argued by A Cure for Wellness: ugly, breathtaking, and irrevocably tied to the past.

A Cure for Wellness is Recommended If You Like: The pop philosophy of Fight Club, the creepy crawlies of Slither (2006), the nasty secrets of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Grade: 3 out of 5 Suspect Diagnoses