There are a lot of questions surrounding Gore Verbinski's new psychological thriller: What is it about? Why is there a naked lady on the poster? Is it even scary?What it is is Harry Potter for adults.
Set in a castle-like rehabilitation center that houses retired Slytherins, A Cure for Wellness centers on Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a young executive who travels to the Swiss facility via Mercedes Benz (and NOT via the public tram like those poor kids in Hogwarts do) to retrieve one of his company's CEOs who used up all his vacation leaves. After speaking to the spa's director (played by Jason Isaacs, who portrayed Lucius Malfoy), Lockhart gets himself into an accident and unknowingly enrolls into the center's weird curriculum.
Instead of attending potions classes, this castle's faculty has a strict focus on water treatment. Isolation tanks, water aerobics, the whole lesson plan seems as boring as any other retirement home. But people love it here so much that they never want to leave! Just like in Hogwarts, strange things are going on in this supposed place of good intentions and it's up to the newcomer to unravel these secrets.As soon as Lockhart gets admitted, the race begins as viewers try to figure out the connection between the elderly residents, the obviously evil doctors, and the childlike Hannah. The plot seems unique up until a certain point, whereupon it becomes as predictable as an annual visit to your grandmother. And unless you haven't watched a movie in the last hundred years, you will see the ending coming a mile away.
But I'm getting ahead of myself - the journey to the questionable resolution of the film is a mixed bag of events, some of which make you hold your breath only to leave you either underwhelmed or weirded out by their resolution.
One such example is an early scene where Lockhart goes to find Pembroke, the missing CEO, in a sauna. After building the audience up with eerie noises and hallucinations of disappearing passageways, Lockhart eventually meets up with Pembroke without so much as an explanation.This may be to add suspense, but almost all of the scenes in the film are like this - wherein you anticipate something to happen but end up as satisfied as a fat man at a salad bar. These scenes just aren't scary at all.
The scenes that come anywhere close to scary however, come with a healthy dose of unease. I won't spoil anything, but any scenario that involves someone drinking tap water is enough to make you second guess the thought once the end credits roll.Apart from this, some plot points send you on wild goose chases which lead to complete dead ends. Portions that involve Lockhart's parents are given heavy emphasis at the start of the film yet are completely forgotten by the end (just like neglected parents in a retirement home). There is an air throughout the whole movie that makes you feel like the producers wanted to do more but could not stuff it all in due to time constraints.
And that is another problem with A Cure for Wellness: it's freaking long! Clocking in at two and a half hours, the movie drags on for a lengthy amount of time by treating its viewers to a selection of disturbing scenes while never really interconnecting them.
Why do the residents exhibit forms of mind control? What will happen to Lockhart, given that he has undergone the same treatment as the other patients? These are questions that you will be left with as the movie reaches its rushed conclusion.But despite all this, there is a certain execution to the film that makes it do well in spite of its plot.
The entire wellness spa is its own character entirely. On the surface, the outside scenery makes you wish that you could retire here once your family forgets about you. At night, the shadowy corners and long corridors will make you glad that the residents are already wearing adult diapers.Even the shots and sound design are nothing to be ashamed of. From the trickle of water on the side of a glass to the familiar creak of Lockhart's crutches, it's the emphasis on minute details that makes viewers steel themselves for scares that unfortunately do not live up to their expectations.
And that is the movie in a nutshell: too much build-up for too little payoff.
A Cure for Wellness spends so much time building up a mystery that when it realizes it needs to wrap things up, it does so in such a hurried way that the audience is treated to revelation after revelation without much time to process things. This is most evident in its ending, which shifts the movie's tone from a film like SplitÃ into something more akin to The Phantom of the Opera.
The movie's premise is unique. It's been a while since a film drew on more realistic fears by setting itself in a hospital-like enclosure and subjecting its viewers to scenarios that we know all too well. But the way it ties itself together with otherworldly tropes that have been executed better by other films makes you wish it paid more focus on the plot rather than creeping out viewers like an old man outside a candy store.It's hard to pinpoint exactly what A Cure for Wellness wants to do. It isn't particularly scary nor does it do anything better than like-minded films before it. Everything on a technical standpoint works: the acting is good, the atmosphere is there, and you will get disturbed. It's just a shame that it doesn't do anything new. And that is weird in and of itself.