There were such high hopes for this.
On paper, Gore Verbinski’s latest psychological thriller checked all the usual horror film requirements. There is the gorgeous, painting-esque cinematography, a cast of strong and familiar actors, as well as trailers that nails the eerily, unsettled tone. The ones that tease with just enough cryptic bread crumbs, to intrigue cinema-philes everyone.
But in an odd directorial choice, the Gothic thriller trips mid-film, by overcompensating on the suspense, with numerous more-than-subtle nods, to make the finale fairly predictable.
The film’s premise is fairly simple enough. Lockhart (Dan DeHaan) is an ambitious young Wall Street up-and-comer who is sent to a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps, to bring back the company’s CEO who has refused to return.
There’s just one tiny wrinkle to this plan. No one, be it patients or visitors, ever leaves.
The film cleverly explores the idea of the sick plaguing today’s corporate culture and their position in the senseless rat race. Home to many successful bigwigs from all around the world, the sanitarium/facility offers a “cure” to ridding their minds and bodies of the stress that modern society brings.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Swiss Alps, the art direction is a tour-de-force. Every shot feels right at home in a museum, with lush surroundings, and even the shots within the facility showcases the Eastern European Gothic vibe the film takes its influence from. Everything in the frame is perfected crafted, to encase the beautiful castle in a bubble lost in time. Not surprisingly, this also kind of makes sense, to serve the narrative.
Audiences explore the facility through Lockhart, but as talented as the DeHaan is, he might be a little miscast (and young) to play a corporate vulture. His performance comes across as a little derivative, and he acts like the younger brother to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Shutter Island, which is also a movie about visitors to a sanitarium. Heck, the both of them even look alike at certain angles.
But Lockhart begins to crack and second-guess his own sanity the longer he stays within the four walls, and let’s face it – DeHaan excels when he’s playing a brooding character, struggling to find his identity.
The rest of the supporting cast also put up a strong performance, especially Jason Isaacs, who plays Dr Volmer, the facility’s director. There’s little doubt that something’s not quite right with the facility, along with the treatments provided but Isaacs’s consistent performance is the only thing reassuring Lockhart (and the audience) that it’s all in our heads.
However, while the is plenty of built up suspense in the first half of the movie, it is also severely underserved by Verbinksi’s heavy-handedness in resolving the mysteries. Pay-offs only work when we are introduced to a certain motif, which is then subtly referred to again and again, such that when the ending culminates into a grand unveiling, the audiences retrace their steps to identify what had been missed. In A Cure for Wellness though, the subtle teasing occurs far too often, such that audiences can already guess the surprise way before it happened, rendering the unveiling ineffective.
And while filmmakers should be supported in allowing a film to run as long as it needs, to be to tell their story, the 2.5 hours runtime here is definitely unnecessary. In fact, the film feels like there has been one act too many. There were plenty of moments (including the set-ups mentioned above) that could have been trimmed for a tighter film. Instead, the extra time paved the way for audiences to stay ahead of the characters and the story. This might still work had Verbinski subverted audience expectations, but he didn’t and that was disappointing.