Superficially a not-so-subtle jab at the ‘worried well’ who prop up the vitamin industry, A Cure for Wellness is the multivitamin of gothic chillers; a two and a half hour cavalcade of ghoulishness that references everything from House on Haunted Hill and The Shining to Shutter Island and any number of asylum-set shockers.
Dane DeHaan plays a Wall Street climber sent to retrieve his errant boss from a health spa in the Swiss Alps, so that he can sign off on a major merger. A car accident and broken leg later, DeHaan becomes a patient at the sanitarium – a creepy castle perched on a mountaintop that resembles the kind of place you’d find Vincent Price in residence.
It’s Jason Isaacs, however, who’s the medico treating a mostly elderly clientele with hydrotherapy. The facility is built over an aquifer of incredible purity, but as DeHaan soon discovers, there’s something nasty in the water. Digging deeper into the institute’s past – a sordid history of incest, medical experiments and pure bloodlines – he learns the true purpose of the ‘cure’ it’s offering the wealthy well…
Director Gore Verbinski might be best known for spearheading Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but he also helmed the decent US remake of The Ring, and his overdue return to the horror genre (although The Lone Ranger was pretty horrible) finds him at his most creative. A Cure for Wellness might be narratively clunky and overlong, but it’s always visually compelling; mundane moments are invested with a surreal quality, the production design is magnificent, and it’s shot like a Kubrick film.
In contrast to all this opulence are squirm-inducing moments involving slithering eels, grisly dental procedures and desiccated corpses. And as events become increasingly more bizarre, the film remains resolutely po-faced.
A lot of people are going to hate this movie, but those weaned on old AIP asylum chillers and Cronenberg medical horrors will quickly tune into its weird wavelength. You may not know what the hell is going on a lot of the time, but if you surrender to the film’s outright insanity, you’ll discover a cult movie in waiting and possibly the year’s biggest guilty pleasure.
In cinemas: March 16, 2017
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth
Directed by: Gore Verbinski