‘A Cure for Wellness’ is the right dosage of gothic mystery

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Maybe you read some negative reviews. Maybe you just don’t like scary movies. Maybe you were busy last weekend. Whatever the reason, you probably haven’t see “A Cure for Wellness,” director Gore Verbinski’s medical thriller, in theaters. Not many people did. In its first weekend, it placed 11th at the box office. Worse than the rest of the new releases, plus eight movies that had already been out a week or more. I’m here to tell you that despite some confusing plot holes and a 140 minute runtime, “A Cure for Wellness” really isn’t everything you fear.

Let’s face it, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is pretty young to be a big shot financial executive. That’s because he took some shortcuts to get to his corner office in Manhattan. His colleagues on the board know that, so they send him on an undesirable and time-consuming mission—to retrieve their CEO, Robert Pembroke (Harry Groener), from a spa resort in the Swiss Alps. He’s been there longer than the board was expecting, and he sent a mysterious letter implying he wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon. Upon arriving, Lockhart sees why. The desolated hilltop facilities, run by Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), have everything a patient could want—except free will.

There’s a level of mutually understood absurdity to “A Cure for Wellness,” like all of Verbinski’s work (including the animated “Rango,” the first few “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, and “The Lone Ranger”). You forgive a few envelope-pushing twists and turns, and as a reward, you’re treated to a lengthy mystery with more layers than you at first imagine. The twisted tale gets more winding and weird the deeper you go. Over the course of the first hour or more, you’re introduced to a number of mysteries, so many that you don’t know which ones will be resolved, much less how they might be resolved. The most fascinating for me is a folktale about the wealthy baron who used to live on the grounds where the sanatorium now stands, and his series of unethical and twisted science experiments he conducted—the cause and exact nature of which are disagreed-upon local legend. The castle-like sanatorium at the film’s center becomes as much of a plot point and vibrant character as a setting. It provides every unique room and function you could desire for a gothic mystery.

Ever since “The Patriot,” Jason Isaacs’s particular brand of theatrical—almost campy—drama has been enjoyable to me. Here, it’s taken to a new level. Dane DeHaan is the perfect choice for Lockhart, the cold, businesslike professional. The angst he debuted in “Chronicle” is now a fine-tuned cynicism, which is more mature and much easier to handle. And playing Hannah, a girl of an indeterminate age who is referred to as a “special case” at the sanatorium, Mia Goth gives us all the freedom to wonder who her character is and how she’ll factor into the plot. Goth keeps her cards close.

A well-crafted gothic story told in full, “A Cure for Wellness” is perfect escapism, the chance to think about a movie rather than simply consume it. Maybe the questions don’t have answers, and maybe that has more to do with laziness on the screenwriter’s part than any cleverly intended mystery, but I like to believe it’s the latter.

7/10

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