Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a visually sumptuous experience that deserves a fascinating plot to go with the scenery. It’s not really there, however, so we’re left with an eye popping failure that goes on far too long. Spending two and a half hours in the Swiss Alps isn’t so bad at times, but I wish the screenwriter had realized the story is essentially nothing new. There’s shades of Shutter Island (not just because its lead resembles a younger Leo DiCaprio), plenty of Gothic horror entries, and even a Marathon Man school of dentistry moment. Does it add up to a satisfying whole? Not so much.
Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a workaholic at an NYC financial firm who is tasked with traveling across the ocean to retrieve a coworker. That individual is Pembroke (Harry Groener), the company’s CEO who has gone MIA and is holed up at a mysterious “wellness center” in the mountains of Switzerland. The firm needs him back as they are mired in a trading scandal and forthcoming merger. Lockhart, with his unbridled ambition, is eager to do it.
Once there, he discovers a place filled with some of the world’s 1% trying to improve their lives. It’s run by the mysterious Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who encourages Lockhart and his clientele to be drinking the water fed to them continuously. We suspect it’s not just to keep hydrated due to the altitude.
Lockhart is also told that once you’re at the lush spa, you don’t leave and he discovers this the hard way. His seemingly interminable stay (it sometimes feels that way for us too) acquaints him with Hannah (Mia Goth), a mysterious young girl who still acts far younger than she should. It is this duo that tries to discover the truth behind their surroundings.
A Cure for Wellness is a triumph of production design and other technical aspects. Verbinski, the director of Mousehunt and the American version of The Ring and first three Pirates of the Caribbean pics, has shown these abilities before. If only that pesky story were more original. If only the characters inhabiting this peculiar land were more developed. For instance, Dehaan’s lead character is saddled with a familiar backstory of Daddy issues. Two and a half hours is too much time to be spent here no matter how gorgeous it looks.
** (out of four)