Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Justin Haythe, Gore Verbinski
Producer: Arnon Milchan, Gore Verbinski, David Crockett
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Celia Imrie, Adrian Schiller, Ivo Nandi, Tomas Norstrom, Ashok Mandanna, Lisa Banes, David Bishins, Carl Lumbly
A brash young executive uncovers a mysterious conspiracy when he is sent to retrieve his firm’s CEO from a secretive sanitarium.
Hotshot executive Lockhart’s rise up the ranks could be cut short now that his firm is in hot water with the SEC. To keep a crucial merger on track, they need to find a fall guy fast.
Luckily, the company’s CEO is an ideal scapegoat. Pembroke has been MIA since retreating to a mysterious medical clinic hidden in the Swiss Alps. And a handwritten letter announcing his intention to never come back sends a sign he is out of his mind.
Lockhart’s task is simple. Get to the remote Volmer Institute tout suite, collect Pembroke, and return to New York before the company’s stock sinks any lower.
Once inside the secluded resort, Lockhart learns leaving isn’t easy. A mystery is afoot atop the mountain involving complacent patients, an enchanting young woman, a strange sanitarium director, and the building’s haunted history as a baron’s battleground with incensed villagers. When a violent accident turns him into an unwitting patient, Lockhart realizes he must connect all the dots or risk remaining in the facility forever.
You’d be right to balk at the 146-minute duration of “A Cure for Wellness.” It’s one thing to be long. To also be snail speed slow on top turns the movie into a true test of patience.
Sometime after the success of “The Ring” and the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, which weren’t by any means brief, director Gore Verbinski was completely let off his leash and his runtimes haven’t been reined in since. 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” ran two and a half hours. Verbinski’s last Pirates sequel, “At World’s End,” clocked in ten minutes shy of three hours. Even his PG-rated animated effort “Rango” rang up at 107 minutes when comparable fare from Disney or Pixar commonly holds under 90.
“A Cure for Wellness” is another instance of kowtowing producers and editors being unable to wrangle Verbinski’s overindulgence in tedium. The film gestates so gradually that the mind finds a new way to engage by keeping a mental inventory of unnecessary minutes piling up in the meantime. Easily excisable shots include inserts of sunlight through treetops while bicycling down a mountain, patients playing languid rounds of croquet on the sanitarium lawn, or any one of innumerable scenes featuring Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) creeping on crutches down corridors with an expression of confused consternation pursing his brow.
Verbinski aims to echo the oppressive atmosphere slowly sapping Lockhart’s strength while under the sanitarium’s seductive spell. But the audience is looking at the same pendulum pocket watch, and is lulled into a yawning trance in the process.
“A Cure for Wellness” compounds its disinterest problem by way of a predictable plot whose lack of urgency further smothers attempts to start a suspense fire. The mystery is solvable before it really starts given the conspicuousness of a close-up on a water glass as Lockhart proceeds to chug its contents. Clue #2 involves an unidentified man with a bandaged face in an old photograph, and the list of suspects for who he might be contains only one character’s name. Once these two tidbits of info are out in the open, the rest of the story tells itself.
The movie loses miles because of its premise’s lack of novelty. But it makes up a few inches via spectacular visual style that would be more impressive if the pace could keep sleepy eyes open enough to appreciate the effort. A gruesome gutting of an injured animal and a battered deer limping to its death are two sequences not soon to leave the mind’s eye. Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli channel some of the style that made “The Ring” work so well. Their collective eye for crafting creeps is what keeps the film’s waiting game from being a completely interminable bore.
A bold climax adds a touch of too little, too late adrenaline. If “A Cure for Wellness” didn’t tastelessly employ its primary female lead, once as an awkward underage romantic prospect and then as a target of incestuous rape, there might be more of a mood to have fun with the ending’s absurd audaciousness. What with a sudden reveal of grotesqueness from a villain to a random gasoline can readily available for burning down a building, there’s an “anything goes” attitude in play that could be guiltily entertaining if the mouth’s taste wasn’t so acidic.
“A Cure for Wellness” is akin to an undiscerning poor man’s “Shutter Island” as directed by an unbridled hand. Truncation would go a long way toward distracting from the film’s formulaic slow burn thrills. Until someone drums up the courage to rap a ruler across Verbinski’s knuckles, this could be the most cohesive chiller he is currently capable of cutting.
Review Score: 50