Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Movie Review: 'A Cure for Wellness' Full of Campy Wonders
A Cure for Wellness (2017, directed by Gore Verbinski. U.S.A./German, English, Color, 146 minutes) Reading the synopsis for Gore Verbinski's new mind-bending thriller "A Cure for Wellness" I was prepared for a very cliché story à la "Shutter Island" where the supposedly "normal" protagonist was actually a resident of the asylum the story takes place. It's such a predictable outcome yet is a favorite twist for audiences to uncover.
"A Cure for Wellness" is not that type of movie (thankfully?).
Going back to the creepy, beautifully macabre supernatural story like the one in the "The Ring" that put him on the spot in 2002, Verbinski takes those elements and presents a story that is equal parts disturbing and deliciously campy.
At the edge of the Swiss Alps above a German village is an elaborate castle housing a sanitarium (wellness center) where rich old people go to luxuriate in its various aquaponic delights to treat any illnesses. Saunas, water aerobics, steam chambers, full-body rinses, swimming. It's all there. No one seems to be sick since they have all been cured, yet they don't leave. They stay to play croquet, badminton, fly a kite, or even play table games with each other on the precisely trimmed front lawn. It's a perfect life there, almost Stepford-like.
The center is where Pembroke, a CEO, has decided to run off to to escape from the cold realities of what his life has become as head of a huge business going through a merger. To let the merger go through, the company sends Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) to get him and bring him back to the states. It isn't long before he, too, has been checked in to the place following a serious accident and befriends a curious young girl there named Hannah (Mia Goth). As he hobbles around the center - on the noisiest damn crutches you've heard heard in cinema - trying to lure his boss back home and figure out extremely strange happenings regarding "treatment" of the patients, he draws the ire of the center's director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs). Lockhart knows these "patients" aren't normal and hobbles around investigating why no one ever leaves, and, perhaps, he shouldn't have.
There, that's the best I can do to describe the film because there is so much WTF-ery going on you can't even take it. Setting up the basic premise is more than enough because since it strays so far from the usual "sanity-turned-insane" movie of this genre, it's truly a mess you must see for yourself.
"Cure" is a methodical burn taking its time to setup the atmosphere to a fantasy galaxy that seems like a hybrid of the Victorian 1800's and the punk rock of 1960's. The film slowly creeps through the meticulously kept sanitarium, a gorgeously decorated and clean space where the staff is just as pristine as the building (think scary Stepford). Eventually we discover a horrific labyrinth beneath the building that carries out some of the most grizzly and deplorable acts of cruelty you would never want to see in any sort of wellness center. Draining bodies of fluids, dental examinations that put Dr. Christian Szell to shame abuse of patients, and so much more. Two people left the theater during a very graphic tooth surgery, never to be seen again.
But those atrocities are only a piece of the story, which takes a 180º from a thriller that had some surprisingly sharp bits of social commentary in it — patient advocacy, mental health, authoritarian rule — to a crazy incestuous love story where "The Phantom of the Opera" meets "Oedipus Rex". There is an ending fight scene that is so absolutely ridiculous, the audience was having a good laugh. I don't mind camp, and it's so unforgivably apparent here it takes away from what could have been a good psych thriller had it stayed on that path. No regrets indulging in that mess since it was so silly.
"A Cure for Wellness" was very nice to look at because of the production details, but the overall seriousness of the tale is beset by ungodly camp in the final act and a forged relationship that is intensely disturbing. I appreciated the (unintentional?) messages the film had about current and past social issues, yet it wasn't enough to find a a cure for its own fledgling silliness.