To say that there’s a moment in Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness when you realise that it’s not the film you thought it was is accurate, but an understatement. The Pirates Of The Caribbean filmmaker is making the most of his return to the horror genre and, in doing so, crams this beautifully stylish chiller so full of references to his favourite movies that it creates a kind of genre turducken. It’s knowingly ridiculous, overstuffed and highly enjoyable.
Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a slimy, ruthless city trader who is sent to an exclusive Alpine health spa to retrieve a board member who seems to have lost his mind in the waters. A car accident leaves him with a broken leg and officially in the care of Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who urges him to relax and drink lots of the local water.
Something’s not right here, though, and as Lockhart hunts for his quarry he begins to wonder if there might be something to the old stories about the place…
A Cure For Wellness starts as a sleek, stylised satire, with the shimmering glass expanse of New York’s business district housing twisted workaholics who are sick in mind as well as body. Once the nicotine gum-chewing, sleep-deprived Lockhart pitches up at the clinic, Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe start stirring more varied influences into his social satire and don’t really stop.
There’s Hammer Horror, Shutter Island, Eyes Without A Face, The Shining, Possession, The Ninth Configuration, Suspiria, at least two kinds of Vincent Price movies, and some Silent Hill to the mazes, mind-games and grisly shocks. That means subtlety sails out of the window and it becomes increasingly daft, but it does make for a highly entertaining and gleefully horrid tale that somehow doesn’t drag during its 2 ½ hour running time.
DeHaan is perfectly cast as the sickly, relentless Lockhart, while Isaacs plays his sinister doctor with just the right blend of joviality and reserved menace.
Somewhere in A Cure For Wellness is a much more restrained, much sharper film, but there’s no guarantee it would be as much fun as this overripe, overblown, gorgeous oddity. We didn’t even mention the eels…