A Cure for Wellness (dir. Gore Verbinski, 2016) – Lockhart is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from a wellness centre in the Swiss Alps, but he soon suspects that the treatments may not be what they seem.
A moody nightmare dreams up lasting hellish visions, but suffers the absence of a meaningful conclusion.
Success is no easy pursuit. Up its perpetual ladder, the climb affords no vacation and decidedly comes at a cost. For young executive Lockhart (Dane Dehaan), the price of avarice is heavy. His company sees his vulturistic ambitions and threatens to pin their corporate crimes on him. That is unless he retrieves their CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener) from a Swiss wellness centre – in time for the company merger.
The task sounds simple enough. But at the far-flung retreat, Lockhart finds Pembroke in a fugue state and unwilling to leave. A car accident complicates Lockhart’s exit and lands him back in the care of the remote centre. Cut off from the outside world, he grows wary of the mysterious treatments and Hannah (Mia Goth), a girl living among the geriatric population.
All signs point to sinister secrets beyond a promised cure. For what exactly, is the unsettling question. A Cure for Wellness does not offer easy answers. Every turn leads to a dead end, driving Lockhart into the mouth of madness. Before long, he starts to experience inexplicable visions that stretch the boundaries of reality. Could it be paranoia with a cause, or simply his own instability manifesting?
Against the institutional setting, it is easy to believe that Lockhart’s work obsession may be a chronic sickness of his own mind. The Germanic fort seems to owe beauty to a Gothic nightmare, draped in a veil of surrealism and awash in muted green. Masterful cinematography conjures fantastical imagery that simultaneously captivates and disquiets. Delivering anxiety through deliberate perfection, its dream-like atmosphere calls to mind the visual artifice of Suspiria.
Tranquil sights appeal little to the obsessive nature of Lockhart, whose restless mental state offers a fascinating study of capitalistic greed that consumes him. Intrigue lies in his hidden past that adds ambitious layers above pure disturbance. Echoing the eerily dulcet lullaby in Rosemary’s Baby, Benjamin Wallfisch’s cradlesong of an enthralling score contributes to the paranoia build-up.
But the dive into the human condition soon deviates. From his insistence on hydration to claustrophobic isolation tanks, Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs)’s methods invite reasonable doubt on his true ill intent. Lost ambiguity paves way for sheer visceral terror. The alarming prevalence of water becomes a source of fear, rather than life.
Of surgical steel and forceful intubations, artificial contraptions are designed to shock. And they do it well; one scene threatens Oldboy‘s reign in dentistry scares. Potent chills come in measured servings, with a generous entrée of suspense. Fatigue however takes over in the remaining minutes spent meandering around corners.
At the end of the labyrinth lies impatience and no satisfying answer. Without warning, the delirious nightmare devolves into the familiar lair of Wicker Man cults and tortured phantoms. This final act feels like an over-extravagant b-movie homage, and the utter mismatch with its initial subtlety disappoints.
The jarring shift misleads audiences into sudden campy territory – too outrageous for the mainstream and too abrupt for exploitation fans. Harbouring confused ambitions, A Cure for Wellness leaves behind only unmet expectations and an unfortunate bitter taste.