Sunday 26 February 2017

A Cure for Wellness

"Only when we know what ails us can we hope to find a cure."

In the modern movie environment that is riddled with sequels, reboots and remakes it is tempting to lavish praise upon the next original movie that comes along regardless of its actual content. By no means should we ignore the work of talented storyteller who strive to bring us original material (and convinced someone at a major studio to let them make it, which is even more miraculous) but there is also the small side note of whether or not the movie itself is any good.

A Wall Street stockbroker (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company's CEO (Harry Groener) from an idyllic wellness centre. As he spends more time there he suspects that the treatments are not what they seem. As he unravels the wellness centre’s terrifying secrets he finds himself diagnosed with the same mysterious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.

There are any number of shots within ‘A Cure for Wellness’ (or any shot in the movie to be fair) that you would want to freeze frame, hang on your wall and admire every days for its artistry, excellent composition and stunning cinematography. It may be one of the best looking horror films to come out of America for some time, good enough to rival the look of movies by Nicholas Winding Refn. But disappointingly, Gore Verbinski seems to have taken another lesson for Refn that permeates his lesser films. Namely the fact that it doesn’t matter how amazingly beautiful your movie looks, sooner or later it needs to work as a cohesive whole.

But because I always like to start on a high note I’ll spend more time delving into what was outstanding. Like all of Gore Verbinski’s films the set design, cinematography and visual effects are impeccable. Each aspect of the movie, on a visual level, synchs up perfectly to create an awe inspiringly intriguing vision. Not only that but there are select scenes throughout the film that have this same level of craftsmanship and when taken on their own are excellent pieces of filmmaking. The sound design is also superb, creating a terrifying feeling of isolation and entrapment through the simplest of music ques and sound effects.

So on a technical level, so far soo good. In fact for the first half hour of the movie I was beyond intrigued and fascinated by Verbinski’s twisted vision. But as the film ploughs on I gradually came to realise that nothing I was watching had the slightest air of cohesion to it. The plot meanders around so aimlessly that I would struggle to relay it to you having just seen it. That is not to say the story itself is complex, overall it is actually infuriatingly simplistic, but the road to get there is so needlessly long and convoluted.

This could be fine if the film was trying to draw up a sense of suspense through its misdirection, but ‘A Cure for Wellness’ is so tonally inconsistent that it feels like the offspring of two completely different ideas that could not be stretched into a feature film. Having gone from the atmospheric and psychological tension of its first half, it rapidly jumps into a series of over the top set pieces that escalate on an almost unintentionally humorous level. It was as if the movie exhausted all of its worthwhile ideas but realised it still had an hour of plot left to convey. These set pieces not only feel like a betrayal to the far more effective half that preceded them, but are so excessive that they spoil any effect the lower scale horror has up to that point anyway.

Why they even felt the need to include them baffles me. The ludicrously long run time of 2 hours and 26 minutes means that the pace and structure simply fall apart as it continues to drag on. I dare say a good hour could have been cut out of the film and it would have been just as if not more effective than it is now. Maybe I could be convinced to spend that much time in this world I could latch onto any of the characters as empathetic human beings. But none of them have the slightest bit of depth to them or any redeeming qualities that made me empathise with them. I understand not every character has to be likable, but I do ask that they at least be mildly interesting rather than just a bland caricature, with dialogue that is painfully awkward and unnatural. I’m willing to believe that the dialogue is a product of instilling an eerie atmosphere, but as it continues for the whole film it undercuts any potential dramatic tension.

The cast are serviceable for the most part, with a select few like Jason Isaacs being appropriately intimidating. But the fact that the movie spends so much time focussing on its lead character played by Dane DeHaan who (and I don’t like to single people out) but kept the same facial expression and tone of voice on him throughout the entire movie that it did even more to remind me that he was anything but a deep or empathetic human being. The fact that DeHaan has played exactly the same smug type in the rest of his performances only makes the situation far worse.

Stunning to behold on a visual level, but with a story that is both predictable and completely lacking in cohesion ‘A Cure for Wellness’ is difficult to become invested in.

Result: 4/10

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