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John’s Horror Corner: A Cure for Wellness (2016), The Road to Wellville (1994) meets Shutter Island (2010) with a dash of Frankenstein (1931) in this incredibly strange genre-splicing film.

June 6, 2018

MY CALL:  Incredibly strange yet surprisingly rather coherent given its moral-testing lunacy and wispily mixed themes, this visually stunning and sanity-challenging film is worth the time of any adventurous film-goer with a strong stomach and a penchant for the unusual.  MORE MOVIES LIKE A Cure for WellnessGet Out (2017) comes to mind… and maybe Shutter Island (2010). But, outside of those, I’m at a loss.

Director Gore Verbinksi (The Ring, The Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3) brings his facility for scale and cinematography to this GORGEOUS film that injects a horrific story into The Road to Wellville (1994) interspersed with Shutter Island (2010).

From its very offset we are awash with very different tones and themes. We meet a slick, ambitious young Wall Street executive who is charged by the robotically cold corporate board to venture to a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps to return the company’s perhaps insane CEO. Not 15 minutes into the film and we have corporate scandals and hints that a Frankensteinian dichotomy exists between the “villagers” and the hilltop castle-like wellness facility in a region of the world remote from modern comforts—as if spinning an admixture of present day with Mary Shelley’s historic period.

Our young exec Lockhart (Dane Dehaan; Chronicle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) discovers a Utopian treatment center with sunny Tai Chi and badminton on the lawn enjoyed by smiling patients in immaculate white robes and none with a negative word to say. So idealistic is it, that the patients seem to participate equally with the staff in hiding something as Lockhart learns more of the historic hydrotherapy facility’s dark past.

As Lockhart, Dane Dehaan is as sinister as he is charming, but more tightly wound; an excellent counterpart to Jason Isaac’s Dr. Volmer (The OA, Event Horizon) very similar performance as the charismatic facility director Dr. Volmer, who is of ever more calm disposition. As Lockhart loses control, Volmer is always there to grasp more. Not unlike Shutter Island (2010), Lockhart’s investigation soon finds himself a patient of the facility, with numerous delusions of his present echoing the haunting pains of his past.

Things get pretty weird and we end up somewhere I absolutely didn’t expect through the use of elderly full frontal nudity, complicated historical clues revolving around incest and deformed babies, a very strange masturbation scene, reality-questioning hypotheses (or hallucinations) of parasitosis and their VERY invasive means of application, rumors of science-based longevity, an unusual application of electric eels in an off-putting coming-of-age scene, and an extremely uncomfortable father-daughter moment that will likely offend many viewers. Yes, this film includes numerous perverse themes. But, no, I don’t find it exploitative. Given the cavalier inclusion of the aforementioned components, the film was approached rather tactfully. Although it is more than a bit jarring when an actress (regardless of her adulthood in reality) playing an early teenage girl (Mia Goth; Nymphomaniac Vol. II, the 2018 remake of 1977’s Suspiria) is the subject of nudity and sexual assault.  So… yeah… ummm… don’t watch this with your mother or your kids.

Despite being incredibly eerie and on (frequent) occasion uncomfortable, this is truly an outstanding film.

PODCAST SIDEBAR: If you want to know more about A Cure for Wellness, check out our in-depth podcast discussion: Episode 129: A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinkski’s gorgeous genre-splicing psychological horror. Mark did TONS of research on the film, the behind-the-scenes, and even the filming aspect ratio. You’ll walk away with a serious appreciation of the film’s production and the impracticality of “obsession laboratory” lair architecture.

 

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