A CURE FOR WELLNESS
20th Century Fox
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe ShowBiz
Director: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Justin Haythe, story by Justin Haythe
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Susanne Wuest, Carl Lumbly, Lisa Banes, Magnus Krepper, Ivo Nandi, Natalia Bobrich
Screened at: Regal Union Sq., NYC, 2/2/17
Opens: February 17, 2017
Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography amid the gorgeous German Alps, Benjamin Wallfisch’s striking contemporary music, and Eve Stewart’s busy production values cannot make up for the weak screenplay of Justin Haythe from a story by the screenwriter. A better word for “weak” would be “hodgepodge,” as the psychological thriller cum horror “A Cure for Wellness” brings in elements from “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Hostel 2,” and all the laughable sci-fi pictures of the 1950’s wherein the scripts for dystopian civilizations seem often enough to end up with “Perhaps we scientists would be better off if we did not interfere with nature.”
For a while in this overlong, two and one-half hour movie, the activities described could probably be descriptions of any high-priced European spa. In directing the thriller, Gore Verbinski, whose “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” set the record for the highest opening weekend of all time–one hundred thirty-five million dollars–has apparently been granted a free hand with all the money he could need. If only the budget were cut by a third and the screenplay were tightened up, Verbiniski could have emerged with a classic of a horror pic. To his credit, though, the action is largely verbal, the dialogue playing among the kinds of plush locations that would attract anyone from President Trump’s cabinet. The rich folks in this drama schedule massages, steam baths, gymnastics in the water and buffet dinners laden with sturgeon and other delicacies.
Despite what Volmer (Jason Isaacs) the director of the facility states, the folks who take the waters in this Swiss Alpine resort (filmed in Baden-Turttemberg, Hechingen, Heilstatten, Beelitz and Schraplau—all in Germany), the people playing badminton, biking, dining, doing puzzles, playing chess are not getting better. They are told to drink much of the water, which you in the audience might figure could be one of the problems. On the other hand, the drops of water imbibed by the director and patient Hannah (Mia Goth) might be something else entirely.
In what looks like a blow against capitalism as well as on spa vacations, Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is ordered by fellow directors on a board to go to the spa and bring back a partner whose signature is needed to clear a merger. But when a car accident occurs in the Alps, Lockhart is required to stay at the facility with a cast on his leg. During his time at the resort, Lockhart notices odd things: snakes in his toilet, snakes in the pool. The more he tries to figure out the situation, the more director Volmer tells him they’re hallucinations brought on from a traumatic incident in Lockhart’s childhood (he witnessed the suicide of his father).
We watch Lockhart snooping about, now getting caught, now escaping clutches, biking into town with patient Hannah where they meet some hostile locals. We’re also told—frequently—that the castle is haunted, without using that word. Two hundred years back, the baron insisted on marrying his sister to keep the bloodline pure. The pure lady, however, is hanged and burned, and therein lies clues to Volmer’s determination to keep the spa running.
If you have a taste for horror done in an arty, slow-moving style with all the furious action during the final half hour where art bows out and melodrama blazes in, this could be for you. If you long to visit the colorful villages of Mitteleuropa, same deal. If you like a screenplay that’s focused and makes sense throughout and not just in the finale when spa’s director tells all, this may be a questionable investment. Remember that villains have the best lines and ooze the kind of toxic poison that makes audiences want to tear them apart. Jason Isaacs evokes the very emotion.
146 minutes. Rated R. (c) Harvey Karten, Member NY Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – C+