Review: A Cure for Wellness

Don't Drink the Water...
“A Cure for Wellness” is a psychological thriller/horror/dark fantasy film that follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) an overambitious, young corporate hotshot whose shady rise (due to shady dealings) get him noticed and blackmailed by his company’s top executives. In order to appease the partners- and keep himself out of jail- Lockhart agrees to travel to a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company’s MIA (due seemingly to derangement) CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener). After receiving the mysterious treatment, Pembroke, who visited the supposed health spa for a brief reprieve and recovery from issues due to work related stress, has decided not to return, resigning from the brink of collapse company shortly before a major merger that could save it. After a strange first and unsuccessful visit and attempt to remove Pembroke from the facility, Lockhart himself is injured and is admitted to the center for treatment.

Faced with the strict rules and schedules as well as the odd habits and delayment/diversion tactics of the staff, a determined Lockhart ignores them all in his purpose. He’s so consumed with hurrying along his mission that for much of the first half of the film he seems to remain completely oblivious or willfully ignorant to the questionable circumstances within and surrounding the facility and it’s mysterious head Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs). When he finally does begin to truly seek answers behind the mysterious illness, treatment, and cure (advertised as deriving from the center’s “healing waters”), enlisting the unwitting aid of Dr. Volmer’s youngest and equally mysterious “special case” patient Hannah (Mia Goth), Lockhart starts down a path- one of eerie histories, shady activities, and mysterious secrets- that leads to his own diagnosis with the illness. He begins losing his grip on reality as uncertainty and the seemingly impossible leave him (and some viewers) questioning what’s real and what are the products of his symptoms.

DeHaan, Goth, and Isaacs deliver solid and insanely believable performances for such an insanely unbelievable story. DeHaan first introduces us to the selfish and brash Lockhart as a man motivated solely by his own greed and desire for corporate success, suppressing the inner demons that have shaped his life and remain unconfronted. His lack of consideration and awareness, for both himself and others, makes you as anxious for his imminent suffering as it does any possible redemptive revelations and triumph. Isaacs’ portrayal of the mysterious doctor and center director is as suave and charismatic as it is terrifying. He’s an extremely refined villain (a role Isaacs is always well-suited for) whose charm mitigates the effects of the instinctive fear and discomfort he imposes on the audience...that is until the end (after which you may never be able to look at the actor the same). And Goth provides an extremely strong portrayal of the adolescently-minded Hannah, managing both the image of a sheltered (to put it lightly), seemingly prepubescent and extremely vulnerable woman-child whose growth seems severely stunted- until the arrival of Lockhart and his challenging of her imposed limitations- to, in a somewhat discomforting transformation, a desirable young woman quickly crossing the brink of maturity and helplessness in what seem like one or two fell swoops.

The film is artistically beautiful, with a greenish tint that seems to accentuate the tone of the psychological thriller. The location of the center itself serves alternately as the outwardly appealing backdrop and (upon closer inspection) frightening focal point of the movie. But for all the rock solid performances and visual ambition and beauty, the film’s premise suffers for a few reasons, one of the biggest being the fact that it is just way too long. Two and a half hours too long to be exact, and filled with what seem to be multiple red herrings (some of whom do actually end up leading somewhere...eventually) and false endings, with twists and turns that seem to only extend or distract from the outcomes at least half of the audience will already see coming a mile away, yet long before they are realized by our protagonists. The combination of many of these unnecessarily long and extremely hard-to-watch scenes in addition to the film’s entire premise and collection of characters, add up to a cinematic experiment in disturbia with an ending that leaves little to the imagination and yet many questions to be answered. Perhaps the simplest question you’ll walk away with is how all the center’s patients could forget the oldest, most essential piece of tourist advice in the book? “Don’t drink the water.”

*This film is not for children or the squeamish (which I’m typically not, but it still sat with me for a while). A mix of psychological thrill, gothic horror, and dark fantasy, “A Cure for Wellness” pulls some of its most genre defining tropes and traits from a variety of films it seems to pay slight homage to, including “Shutter Island”, “Youth”, “Crimson Peak”, “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, and “Phantom of the Opera”- none of which reach its level of disturbing.

Some trigger warnings for suicide, abuse of the elderly, incest, rape, and situations, spaces, and villains that draw certain similarities to those of Nazi scientists.

3 out of 5

What would I have changed? (Spoilers)
Click here to read what I would Change
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Liz Liz (Contributor) is an ardent cinephile from West Philadelphia. She enjoys all genres and generations of cinema and has a particular love for independent and foreign films
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