A Cure for Wellness

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Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth Director: Gore Verbinski Time: Genre: Thriller Age Restriction: Release Date: February 17, 2017

What it's about:

An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness centre” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. The executive soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure.

What we thought:

Today’s society can be quite obsessed with health, the latest diets and cures for our modern ailments, and sometimes what we think will make us better makes us worse. A Cure for Wellness taps into that ‘healthy’ craze and mixes it up with some cultish beliefs and Transylvanian-esque folklore. The story itself is as strange as it sounds, and I am still confused on various elements and explanations, but at the end A Cure for Wellness is an art film with some of the best cinematography I’ve ever witnessed, and you’ll get lost not only in the jaw-dropping visuals and production design, but also in the superb performances of Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth and Jason Isaacs.

An ambitious young businessman (DeHaan) is sent by his company to fetch its CEO from an elite Swiss Alps wellness center. Upon arrival, the enigmatic doctor (Isaacs) checks in the reluctant patient, who is soon pulled into the castle’s darkest secrets.

What’s good to know about this film beforehand is that it’s an American-German co-production, and German films can be a bit odd compared to the usual Hollywood offerings. Though directed by Gore Verbinksi who gave us the first few Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the critically bombed The Lone Ranger, this film is quite distinctive from his previous work, showing a surprising range from the director. The story is unfortunately its weakest element, even if I really enjoyed the film, and its two-and-a-half hours runtime does no favours for the pace. Art was definitely more important than structure, and though a mainstream audience might not be too thrilled with this piece, the ones with a more macabre taste can appreciate the film for its tantalising performance.

Despite the convoluted story, this film still deserves four stars just because it was so gorgeous. There were some of the most beautifully composed shots that were almost on par with Wes Anderson, intertwining movement and colour into a tapestry of artistic embellishment that just stopped short of being too pretentious. This combined with a visionary production designer (Eve Stewart with four Oscar nominations under her belt) gave us not a film but an art piece that you wish you could frame. What’s even more surprising is that cinematographer Bojan Bazelli’s other work is just as different from this film as Verbinski’s filmography, which makes you wonder who gave them the inspiration or space to flourish in this one. 

DeHaan was also a joy to watch, and his character was so well fleshed out you thought you personally knew him (though to be fair the film was horribly long). I’ve always liked his acting style, and he really went all out in his role as the businessman who overcompensates for his emotional scars. Goth, who plays a mysterious ageless girl that seems to be bound to the castle, is also a great newcomer and though her unusual beauty fits well with the design of the film, she proves that she’s more than just a part of the décor. Isaacs again plays a dodgy doctor (if you haven’t seen The OA, go educate yourself), and he is a master at showing stoic calm with a dangerous ego bubbling just underneath the surface. Not only was the lead cast excellent, but the supporting cast and extras really helped bolster the film’s weak story and rounded off the film at its rough edges. 

A Cure for Wellness is a strange film, and I don’t believe it has that mass market appeal. This is why it’s strange that the studio paid for an expensive Super Bowl ad slot and orchestrated a terribly conceived viral campaign, where bits from the film filtered into ‘fake news’ articles, which just perpetuated terrible journalism. But if you go into the cinema with the mind-set that you’re watching an art film, A Cure for Wellness will be an aesthetically pleasing outing with a touch of modern gothic.