Stars: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
Released: 24th February 2017 (UK)
About fifteen minutes into my screening of A Cure For Wellness, the man sitting behind me fell asleep. I know this because he proceeded to snore his way through the next two and two quarter hours, punctuating the soundscape of the movie with the dulcet sound of his sleep-apnia. All things considered, I think the sleeping guy used his time far more productively than I did that evening.
In 2002, The Ring catapulted director Gore Verbinski to fame – it was the first western remake of a Japanese horror film (now a genre in its own right) and earned respectable reviews from critics and audiences alike. For the next decade, Verbinski continued to draw audiences to the box office with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and later the highly underrated animated film Rango.
He’s proven he can turn his hand to a variety of genres, and even came back from the controversy that surrounded the baffling decision to cast Johnny Depp as Tonto in his 2013 adaption of The Lone Ranger – so a return to the genre that made him a Hollywood favourite had audiences understandably excited. Add to this a respectable cast in the form of Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth and Celia Imrie, and you’ve got what should be a recipe for a decent horror movie.
So…what went wrong?
The limp premise itself is immediately a problem. Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a young but ruthless Wall Street type, sent to Switzerland by his employers to retrieve the company’s missing CEO, Pembroke, who disappeared months earlier and sent a cryptic letter saying he would not be returning. We’ve seen this premise countless times before – a young, plucky protagonist goes to an isolated and eerie location, and encounters a strange place filled with strange people – The Shining, Dracula, The Wicker Man, Shutter Island immediately spring to mind. Then comes the atmosphere – it tries so hard to be creepy and disconcerting, but it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen before in the likes of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Eels, tooth decay, the grotesqueness of the human body – it’s all so stale, and not even presented in a creative enough way that it could be considered an homage.
Of course, a thin plot might be forgiven if there was a decent script and acting to compensate, but there just isn’t very much for the cast to work with. Jason Isaacs plays the same character he did in Netflix’s The OA – the creepy doctor with a strange relationship to a young woman he deems ‘special’. Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth have more to do, but not by much, yet remain the most compelling things about the film. DeHaan is reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach (or, of course, Shutter Island) and although the character is one we’ve seen countless times before, he makes a valiant effort at carrying the film with his unique brand of petulance and vulnerability. Mia Goth continues to make her name as a bewitching young actor – she’s completely beguiling as the ethereal Hannah, and hopefully this film paves the way to bigger parts for her.
The film also suffers from a dreadfully slow pace and lack of editing, which makes it feel much longer than its (already excessive) 180-minute runtime. There were about three points in the film where it could – and perhaps should – have ended. It’s not all bad, though – the cinematography is beautiful, and Benjamin Wallfisch provides a beautifully unsettling score with soaring strings and melancholy piano.
The problem is, A Cure For Wellness just doesn’t have anything to say. It uses clichéd imagery and rehashes old ideas that have been done (and been done better) in films made years before, and whilst professing to have some deeper meaning like the dark water of the mysterious sanatorium, A Cure for Wellness is, in reality, as shallow as a puddle.