A wealthy young executive is sent to a retreat in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO, only to find the spa where the CEO is staying might hold some dark secrets.
When I first saw the trailer for “A Cure for Wellness” two or so years ago, I was incredibly excited for the film. I thought the movie looked atmospheric and creepy, and though I find Dane Dehaan to be a rather wooden lead, and Gore Verbinski to be a middle of the road director, I maintained hope that this could be another great epic thriller/horror movie in the same vein as “Shutter Island” or “The Shining” (though I had no hopes that it would be anywhere on the same level as those two). However, when the film came out and the reviews that surfaced were less than favorable, my want to see the film dwindled and died, and I forgot about the film until I saw it was streaming on HBO. Again intrigued, and now not having to pay or go out of my way to see it, I decided I’d give it a go. When I started the film, I was surprised to find it was quite a lengthy film- nigh two and a half hours. Nevertheless, I commenced my viewing, expecting epic excitement and receiving instead epic boredom.
"Are you here for the cure?"
I have no problem sitting down to watch an epic film. In fact, there’s almost nothing that gives me greater joy than waking up on a Saturday morning and looking outside to see a torrential downpour, knowing that I can pop in a two and a half hour epic and escape the dreary world for a while. The morning on which I watched this was indeed dismal, so I snuggled up with a blanket next to my sleeping seventy-pound pitbull and settled in for what I hoped would be an entertaining journey. The first scene, depicting a man having a heart attack alone in an empty office building, was rather long and drawn out, but as far as production design everything looked really nice, and the soundtrack was quite lyrical and hauntingly beautiful. From there we join Lockhart (Dane Dehaan, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”) on a train; he’s busily working away on a computer- clearly fudging the numbers in some books. I’ve never been particularly impressed with Dane Dehaan, but I’ve never really hated him either. In my mind he’s just a warm body you can throw in the leading man’s shoes; he wont do anything so incredibly poorly that it takes you out of the film, but neither will he be so stupendous that he elevates the movie to greatness. In this film, my ‘meh’-ness about him was only furthered. There were scenes when he did a fine job and other scenes when I rolled my eyes. In the following minutes of the film we learn that Lockhart is one of the higher executives of a company going through a merger. The merger is being investigated, and the other executives all know that the FCC will find red flags in the books since they’ve been cooking them. They need a fall man to take the heat and go to jail if worse comes to worst, so the executives appoint Lockhart to travel to Switzerland to a resort where the company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener, “Road to Perdition”- also Mayor Wilkins from Season Three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer- that was distracting!) has been staying for quite some time. Lockhart’s mission is simple: retrieve Pembroke so he will be held responsible should the merger fall through. Lockhart travels to the Wellness Center and meets the head doctor, Volmer (Jason Isaacs, “The Death of Stalin”). Volmer insists that Pembroke is well, but cannot leave at the moment, and thus Lockhart is required to stay for a while. As Lockhart navigates the spa, he eventually meets Hannah (Mia Goth, “High Life”), a strange, almost dreamy, girl who implies that there might be more to the spa than meets the eye.
For the first hour, this movie had me hook line and sinker. There were some mediocre acting moments, and the dialogue left a bit to be desired, but this movie looks amazing. The spa itself is richly detailed with wide spread patterned mosaic tiles, and the film is shot in a way that makes everything look just slightly off. In terms of camera movement, lighting, costuming, design of the settings- everything looks beautiful and wonderfully put together. The exterior shots at the spa showcase the Swiss Alps gorgeously, and the building itself is creepy and gothic. The locations and sets in this film almost make it worth watching for that alone- they provide perfect atmosphere for the story, and honestly, if it weren’t for the beauty of the shots I probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of this two hour dreary epic. There are some locations that look a touch worse than others- in particularly the quality of the sets in the caves beneath the spa look a bit tawdry, but most of the other locations look fantastic. The soundtrack too works perfectly to create a wonderful atmosphere- everything feels dreamy and the shots are slow and flowing. The music, shots, and setting all work together to craft a movie that feels foreboding- for the most part. That sense of foreboding only lasts so long, before you start to realize that nothing is really happening. About an hour into the film I checked my watch, realizing that the only thing Lockhart had done since arriving was walk around the spa. ‘When is the plot going to start picking up,’ wondered I. At about an hour and thirty minutes I checked my watch again, baffled that I still had an hour remaining of the film. At an hour and fifty minutes I was actually bored enough that I got up to throw in some laundry, do a few dishes, and let my dog out to use the restroom. By the time I sat back down, I had to remind myself that I was already more than halfway through, that I was doing this for the good of TMM, and that my time sacrifice would hopefully save someone the boredom that I was subjecting myself to. I did finish the film, and in the end, I felt nothing. The climax felt cheesy and cheap, and I felt like I’d been cheated out of two and a half hours of my life.
This movie had a lot of things going for it; great locations, amazing camera work, an incredibly beautiful soundtrack (seriously- don’t see the movie, but listen to this soundtrack), and some truly creepy imagery, but it completely fails to earn its runtime. Had this movie been an hour and forty minutes, it could’ve been okay (not great- that climax was pretty horrendous), but as it stands, I felt like I had wasted a whole Saturday morning watching a second rate thriller. There are some great scenes in this film, and it’s made with undeniable class- but in the end, great technical work does nothing to make up for poor storytelling.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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