Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS, A Most Curious and Thrilling Adventure

Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth star in a gorgeous new movie from Gore Verbinski.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
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Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS, A Most Curious and Thrilling Adventure

A curiosity, indeed, Gore Verbinski's A Cure for Wellness is a magnificent production of a tiny idea.

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a bloodthirsty junior executive at a financial services firm in Manhattan who would like nothing more than to become a bloodthirsty senior executive. When he is commanded by the senior partners to retrieve the CEO from a mysterious health facility in Switzerland, he doesn't hesitate.

Fantasizing that it will take him just 20 minutes on the ground to fulfill his task and further his career, Lockhart is irritated when he is delayed overnight, but he is really thrown off his rocker when his arranged transport careens off the road on its way back to town. He awakens to find that his leg is in a cast and he is far behind schedule. The facility, however, is happy to accept him as a patient, and he is soon ensnared in an environment that takes kindly to strangers, as long as they ask no questions.

Although the story is set in the modern day, the facility, or "wellness center," feels like it's straight out of the the 19th century. Naturally, no wifi or cell phone coverage is available on the facility grounds, located at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Really, who would want or need such distractions when the setting is so spectacularly beautiful?

The facility itself is quite lovely, too; the grounds are lush and well-maintained, and the gracefully-designed buildings are built of solid, old-school materials. Everything is quiet and calm. Everyone is happy, though Lockhart's fresh eyes detect that something is not quite right.

For one thing, CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener) is not made readily available to see Lockhart, which frustrates the younger man. For another, he observes many ungainly bodies exercising and going about daily routines that make him vaguely uncomfortable. Perhaps it's their unquestioning acceptance of the "treatment" touted by the facility? Or is it his own inhibitions and expectations?

cure_for_wellness-350.jpgAs he explores the grounds, Lockhart catches the eye of Hannah (Mia Goth), who appears to be the only person anywhere close to his age. They are drawn to each other for this reason more than anything else. Through Hannah, Lockhart learns more about the wellness center and Volmer (Jason Isaacs), the director of the facility and also Hannah's father.

Lockhart is chilly and precise in his manner, but he speaks kindly and patiently to all. Of course, Lockhart still begins to suspect that Volmer has a sinister agenda, and he begins uncovering clues that lead him down a shocking path to discovery.

Justin Haythe is credited for the original screenplay, drawn from a story credited to him and Verbinski. The filmmaker endeavors to cast a mysterious spell with unanswered questions, sumptuous production design (by Eve Stewart) and beautifully-lit cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (Pete's Dragon and Verbinski's The Lone Ranger and The Ring, among many other notable titles).

I've not seen all of Verbinski's films, but his last effort, The Lone Ranger, was truly dire. Earlier in his career, though, he made the American adaptation of The Ring, which, though inferior to the original, still had some points to recommend it, as well as The Weather Man, which stood out for its stylish telling of an intriguing story. Those efforts were in contrast to the three bland Pirates of the Caribbean movies he helmed. All of that highlights that Verbinski is very much dependent on the material he has to work with.

What's on screen here looks freakin' fantastic from a visual standpoint and, without delving into spoiler territory, when the questions begin to be answered, it's so outrageously ridiculous that I fell for the whole thing, as much as anything because it doesn't feel like an ordinary adventure. And as I've written before, "filmmakers who provoke a strong gut reaction are the ones I treasure the most, whether their films are considered 'good' or 'bad' by a critical or public consensus."

As I write this, I have no idea what sort of reaction A Cure for Wellness will generate, yet I can't help but admire Verbinski's willingness to reach for the sky. The film's reach may exceed its grasp, but it's a fervent fever dream, a great adventure in style and pretension that seeks to thrill and unsettle, and I loved it.

The film will open in theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada on Friday, February 17. Visit the official Facebook page for more information.

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Dane DeHaanGore VerbinskiJason IsaacsMia Goth

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More about A Cure For Wellness

Ard VijnFebruary 7, 2017 11:19 AM

Well(ness), Mia Goth naked in a tub of eels is at least a catchy visual!

Peter MartinFebruary 7, 2017 11:22 AM

Very true. And it is representative of the movie as a whole: a lot of catchy visuals.

cjohnstonFebruary 7, 2017 4:50 PM

MANY Thanks Peter, for - Yet -- a-NOTHER Stellar review from You (and Others) upon this site; for what is one of my most anticipated films of this year..
You've done NOTHING to Squish my anticipation, either .i might add...

cjohnstonFebruary 7, 2017 4:51 PM

someone needs to take away those slee though.. ...THEN i'd b Happy .!

Elytron FrassFebruary 7, 2017 10:50 PM

same here. I'll be looking forward to pulp-mode by the third act

cjohnstonFebruary 7, 2017 10:59 PM

on the topic of Pulp --- and I speak this with Genuine "intent" here; you might like the likes of a couple 'ah other films such as Trance, The Love Witch, Kill Me Three Times, RocknRolla, Cat Run (and it's sequel), Stretch, Enemy, Too Late, and Detour..

- ALL deliver in Gratifyingly unrelenting, solid, and unending blows to the head and wonderful kicks to the shins...

wabaliciousFebruary 9, 2017 8:04 PM

I expected to hate The Lone Ranger, but i really enjoyed it. Verbinski definitely got stuck in a rut with Pirates films, the sequels were godawful, for me his best film was Rango. It was unexpectedly brilliant, especially if you're a fan of westerns and can appreciate some of the little tributes to old westerns.

One-EyeFebruary 9, 2017 8:39 PM

THE LONE RANGER has incredible stuff in it, if only on a pure spectacle level.

I'm convinced Verbinski can pretty much direct anything, but he's at the mercy of his material.

KurtFebruary 17, 2017 10:42 AM

I LOVED this movie. (I also love THE LONE RANGER, RANGO, POTC2, THE RING remake, and THE WEATHERMAN.)

I guess it is safe to say I'm a Verbinski fan-boy, who loves his 'blockbustery weirdness' in any genre. Who else gets to do this sort of cliche-embracing-but-also-busting-weirdness at this scale and budget? Nobody else, as best as I can tell.