A Cure for Wellness is one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. It comes to us courtesy of Gore Verbinski, who most people associate with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I more readily think of him as being the man who gave us The Ring, which is my favorite horror movie of all-time. In my book, this man has earned a look at all of his future films from me. I wanted to see this one sooner, but my local theater made that difficult. Nonetheless, here I am.
When I reviewed Fist Fight, I mentioned how I was waiting for a 2017 movie to outright disappoint me. I shouldn’t have said anything. Not only was the very next movie an unremarkable experience, but A Cure for Wellness is even more deflating, considering who’s behind it.
Telling the story of a selfish business executive (Dane DeHaan) who gets pulled into the mysterious machinations of an insane asylum, there is plenty of opportunity within the narrative to engage, thrill, and surprise audiences. The film struggles to do any of the three.
Verbinski seems to be going for a bit of Crimson Peak, a helping of A Clockwork Orange, and even a touch of Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s a non-period piece that feels like a period piece. And, I must say that the film’s tone works well and it also looks amazing. There are a handful of shots spread throughout the length of the movie that I would count among the most astonishingly beautiful shots I’ve ever seen in a film. There is no question that Verbinski has an excellent eye and knows how to frame a shot. If only that were enough.
The primary issue with the film is the story by Verbinski and Justin Haythe and then Haythe’s requisite screenplay. I also recently mentioned how intellectual science-fiction and horror, such as Arrival and Ex Machina, are gaining in popularity. A Cure for Wellness desperately wants to be more of that intellectual sci-fi/horror, but falls short in every area that truly matters. Most importantly is that there is no underlying, thought-provoking subtext on which to feast. Not that that’s necessary for a film of this kind to work, but in order to be considered “intellectual”, it actually is. In addition to that, I’m not sure there’s an original idea in the entire film. Everything that occurs has been done in other films, leaving this one with exactly zero surprises. If you were hoping for a roller coaster ride of twists and turns, be prepared to instead settle for a straight-line drive through the Midwestern plains.
The pacing is also a chore. Clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film offers little to keep the viewer invested. None of the characters are particularly likable. And there’s an omnipresent absence of logic in most of the events that unfold, including the one that sets the entire film in motion. (I don’t know about you, but on those rare and unfortunate occurrences when I hit a deer with my car, I stop immediately. What I don’t do is continue to drive at top speed, swerving like a madman until I plunge over the side of a hill.) So, in addition to subtext, what’s one more characteristic of an intellectual film? Yep. Intellect. It’s nowhere to be found in A Cure for Wellness.
I’m also going to be upfront about something else: I’m not a fan of Dane DeHaan. I’ve never enjoyed a single one of his performances. I don’t know if it’s because he’s actively doing a poor job or if there’s just something about him that he can’t even help that hits me the wrong way. I tried to be objective about his lead performance in this film. I never caught him doing anything badly (except for the final shot of the film, in which he sports one of the most forced, insincere, unnatural facial expressions I’ve ever seen) but there’s nothing special or memorable going on, either. That’s true of the entire cast, really. Nobody does an awful job. But they also have no material that they can sink their teeth into and use to deliver an attention-demanding performance, either.
Though the script is as the heart of the film’s issues, when a film fails to work, it ultimately has to come down to the director. Verbinski helped to craft the story and could (should) have taken more care into assuring that it was a gripping, mind-blowing experience. Instead, this is the opposite, as I was dying for it to be over by the time the two-hour mark rolled around. It’s quite possible that Verbinski is a great director (again, the look of the film is truly magnificent) but a subpar writer and that he should stick to directing and let others come up with the ideas. A Cure for Wellness is the biggest disappointment of the year, so far, for me. I was expecting so much more – even in the face of mostly-negative reviews. Ah, well. At least I’ll always have The Ring.
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