Kicking off the Halloween season with my home video habits over two nights I watched the horror film A Cure for Wellness. (Sunday night proved to be so exhausting that even though I was thoroughly into the film I simply could not muster the endurance to complete it in a single night.)
Directed by Gore Verbinski, who also brought us The Ring (US version), Wellness is about a young ambitious and morality challenged young man, Lockhart (Dane DeHann) who has been dispatched to a mysterious sanatorium in the Swiss Alps to retrieve an financial; executive because someone in the company has to take the fall and it is either the executive of Lockhart. The sanatorium is run my the smoothly menacing Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and caters to a rich clientele that never seems to have any desire to leave this place, its amazing waters, and of course ‘The Cure.’ Lockhart becomes a prisoner/patient of the sanatorium and falls into a world of hallucinations, mystery, and body horror.
A Cure for Wellness has Verbinski’s distinctive sense of style. Unlike many who have worked in the horror genre, Verbinski understands that the most effective horror is powered by mood not by gore or a sudden jump scare. As Lockhart’s world crumbles and the mystery deepens the horror grows, bubbling up organically from strange and unsettling characters, the disturbing visual, and just the right amount of body horror. Like many a good horror story, curehas a mystery at its heart and the unwinding of those threads form the core of the plot. This is not a film build around ‘kills’ but around the omni-present threat and the terror of not understanding what is happing to you or what it all means.
Sadly, this film is flawed and flawed enough that the style and the visual ultimately are not enough to carry it across as satisfactory finish line. The story has structure problems, Lockhart escaping twice from the sanatorium is one escape too many, giving the movie a repeated beat that weakens the raising stakes. The third act’s mystery is a good one but in order to have Lockhart resolve it requires the character to have a strength of self that is not well established. The climatic fight between Lockhart and the films ultimate threat breaks what had been up until that point a very well established sense of physical realism, but during the combat falls that would break bones and leave a person unit for further resistance become mere set-backs undercutting a film that had been working.
I am glad I watched A Cure for Wellness but it will not be added to my collection and when I need horror from Verbinski I will turn to The Ring.