Published on February 22nd, 2017 | by Brando Quiring0
A Cure for Wellness
A Cure for Wellness seems to set you up for an ‘asylum’ movie you’ve seen before, then pulls the rug out from under those expectations.
Let me begin by saying that I very much enjoyed watching A Cure for Wellness. Let me follow that up by saying that at first, I had absolutely no idea what I had just watched after seeing it. I sat through the whole credits thinking to myself, ‘What the hell was that? What did I just watch? Did that just happen?’
When I woke up the next day, after letting it all sink in I realized that it was actually a great movie, just not at all what I was expecting. In a land where every movie is trying to do something different or make a statement or change the world, it is very different to see a film that sets all of those things up and then just tosses it aside in favour of tense mystery and kickass visual presentation.
Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a pasty-faced, ladder limbing workaholic executive that must fetch his company’s CEO from a wellness centre in the Swiss Alps, but quickly surmises that things aren’t as they seems on the surface.
From the opening shot, I was expecting A Cure for Wellness to be all about the risks of high-pressure lifestyles. The kind that drives you away from family and friends, and leaves you stressed to the max as you work on business deals at 5 AM on a Sunday, because the account is at risk, and for some reason that is more important to you than anything else. For a good two thirds of the film’s runtime, Lockhart is focused almost exclusively on his job. All the weird stuff happening around him seems to bother him more because it impacts his reason for being in Switzerland in the first place.
What follows seems to be heading towards being one of those tense thrillers where all sorts of crazy things happen, and it becomes clear that it is all in the minds of insane people, and we are going to have an ending where our hero was an inmate the whole time (Shutter Island), or died in a car accident (Silent Hill), or some other such non-ending.
But A Cure for Wellness doesn’t fall in to any of the conventional trappings of movies focused on inmates in asylums, and instead presents a very interesting narrative that is very engaging and way more straight ahead than you expect. Even looking back at it as I type this I have a hard time thinking, “Yup, all that stuff was really happening. Nothing has told me otherwise.”
The roadmap in this movie seems to be setting up the insanity defense. Swarms of immortal, underwater snakes, a centuries-old mad scientist and his sister/wife, and an old story about abandoning God and being burned alive while your unborn child is tossed into the well. It all sounds completely insane and like a thing that will feed the illusions of an over-stressed mind, but as the show moves along these things become more and more real…and then end up not being so different from the old stories that are circulated around town.
There are many times where the story could fall into the “Oh, Lockhart is just an insane guy” box, but in never happens, even though you expect it to. What follows is a final act that left me sitting there with my jaw hanging open as all the craziness becomes real, and we have a beautiful and brutal finale I totally did not see coming, and then a final shot that throws a bucket of doubt across the whole thing.
Technically the movie is great. The location, a real, live German castle, is absolutely gorgeous. The soundtrack is spot on and the acting is what you would expect from a small name movie about an over-worked investment banker in a Swiss sanatorium. Some of the more intense scenes, (a particular one in an immersion tank comes to mind), were unlike anything I have seen in theatres in a very long time, and kept my eyeballs glued to the screen for the entire two and a half hour runtime.
The real strength of this film is in the presentation. It is original (a rarity these days) and presented in a surprisingly straight-ahead manner for a movie with so many twists. It’s taut and well put together, and the turns are mapped out and crafted so well, that it was very hard to knock it, even though it was somewhat confusing and took a long time to realize exactly what I had just seen. If you are looking to see a show and then spend a little while in the bar with your friends discussing everything you just saw, A Cure for Wellness is a great choice. If you are out looking for jump scares and standard fare schlock then I suggest you watch Rings.
But for real…what was with the eels inside that cow?