It’s hard to nail Gore Verbinski down to a single genre, pinging as he does between blockbusters (The Pirates of the Caribbean series), comedy-drama (The Weather Man) and even animation (Rango). With A CURE FOR WELLNESS, he returns to the type of disquieting thriller that made the US version of The Ring a success, even if it doesn’t come prepackaged with the cult weight of its predecessor.
A throwback to the kinds of European psychological horror of the 1960s and 1970s, the films sees Lockhard (Dane DeHaan) sent to a wellness centre in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener). Yet as he begins to experience strange phenomenon, including meeting the otherworldly Hannah (Mia Goth), it becomes clear that neither the institute or its strict director Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) are willing to let him go.
From a mirrored train turning into a remote mountain tunnel, through to the regular and lush underwater shots, Bojan Bazelli’s symmetrical cinematography marks A CURE FOR WELLNESS as a beautiful film. The deep-seated and unnerving nature of the thrills comes from contrasting of these vistas with short and sharp moments of terror, be it a deer careening through a windshield or the squirming scares of hundreds of eels.
The simple dichotomy works, mixing antiquated machinery and the cold stares of villagers with the anxieties the audience brings to the film with them. By the end of the film, Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe have ticked off all of the major phobias, from loss of teeth to forced incarceration. For this is the aim of the piece, to leave us feeling decidedly unsettled and questioning everything we see, even if the answers are in front of our face the whole time.
Yet the film also struggles to maintain that tension, giving way to a shaky final act that gets caught between a story arc that tips too far into the mystical. Odd character choices and random quirks soak into the foundations of the film, leading to a decided uncomfortable denouement. That’s a shame for a narrative that complete envelops you for the duration of its spell, but loses its power when it strains credulity.