The first question I had coming out of almost two-and-a-half hours of A Cure for Wellness is: is Gore Verbinski in on it? I would have to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was, because I can’t really imagine that anyone with as much experience as he has in filmmaking could involuntarily make the perfectly wrong choice at every opportunity. Also, because everything this movie does seem to exist to make it fun despite itself. A Cure for Wellness is not so-bad-it’s-good. It’s bad, astonishingly so; and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater inappropriately (?) laughing at a screen.
Lockhart (Dane DeHaan; no first name given) is a young New York finance-businessman climbing that ol’ capitalism too fast for some of his bosses’ liking, and to punish him, they send him to a rehab center in the Swiss Alps to recover their company’s CEO so that he can come back to New York to do something that will help the company merge with another one and also be the fall-guy for some illegal activity or something – it’s really unclear.
Oh! And all this happens after the first scene, which is of another – completely unimportant character who is never brought up again – dying in their office from overworking.
Lockheart travels the over 4000 miles to the mountain resort, only to be forcibly admitted and entangled in the resorts’ gothic history that somehow involves aristocratic inbreeding, the special aquifer under the resort that contains the “cure” for whatever ails the ultra-wealthy that come to the center for, and a ridiculous amount of eels. Eels everywhere. Eels out the wazoo. An embarrassment of eels.
There is maybe 40 minutes of actual plot buried somewhere within the two-and-a-half hour runtime and literally hundreds of eels for no reason. The rest of it is beautifully shot scenes of the Swiss Alps and the actual former German mental asylum that Verbinski and crew used as location, and also a metric fuck-ton of ambiguously real or relevant dream-sequences and flashbacks that never actually add up to something. Also, have I mentioned the eels?
The biggest problem with A Cure for Wellness is that it takes none of its many ideas to any sort of conclusion, nor finds a way to successfully weave them together in any way. The movie begins, and repeatedly but randomly brings up themes about how capitalism and greed adversely affect the people most involved in them, but that doesn’t end up actually going anywhere beyond making Dane DeHaan look tired all the time. DeHaan’s character also has flashbacks that involve the deaths of both his parents – in separate instances – neither of which seem to have any effect on anything. The movie’s central gothic-horror plot is as predictable as these things get, and instead of attempting to make it at all entertaining, the movie instead decides to just drag it out as long as possible.
And, if I may rant about the eels for a bit longer. First, eels are not scary animals; they’re just dumber looking snakes. Second, I’m 90% sure there’s a draft of this movie somewhere where the eels were supposed to be leeches because one of the main characters actually brings up leeches fairly early on in the story, and leeches have the type of cultural connotations that better tie together the gothic-hospital setting and plot with the themes of greed being deleterious. Third, there’s a bit in this movie involving eels showing up in Dane DeHaan’s toilet. It’s one of those rule-of-three gags, where they hint at it two times earlier on before finally revealing it the third time it comes up. The problem with this is, the first time it’s hinted, everybody and their mother knows that the eels are in the toilet. Like, there’s no reason to repeat this two more times because what happens doesn’t end up being a surprise, and the pay-off doesn’t even work as a silly moment because we’ve been expecting the toilet-eels for two hours. Lastly, how the eels even figure into the central gothic mystery plot doesn’t make a damn lick of sense. They literally do not have to be there!
And then there are just scenes that don’t fit in the movie at all. There’s a completely wackado moment where one of the rehab faculty just starts masturbating. That sounds like a joke, but that isn’t a joke. It’s just a random sequence of this nameless character masturbating. We don’t even see him finish. There’s literally no point to it. The movie doesn’t even work as a tone piece because I can’t tell more then half the time whether scenes are supposed to be scary or funny. There are dozens of objects and motifs that pop up all over the place that should, theoretically, be symbols, but are ever actually given any symbolic meaning.
And that can be said for pretty much the entirety of A Cure For Wellness. It makes every wrong choice, but – and the reason it’s enjoyable despite being a series of bad mistakes – is because it commits way past the point of sanity. It’s the most competently bad movie I’ve ever seen. It’s so brilliantly dumb. Things happen, and because of the way the movie is shot, it looks gorgeous and important, and then something completely different and just as evocative happens. It’s like watching 140 different one minute clips of the part of a horror-movie trailer that raises the suspense but doesn’t actually show the monster.
A Cure for Wellness is the sort of movie that Nicholas Cage should have been the lead in. It’s a movie that is better than it has any right to be because it continually finds a way to zag on you despite having a completely predictable boiler-plate plot from beginning to end. It’s the sort of movie that, if Gore Verbinski were to admit that he made it on a dare to make the worst movie he could possible imagine, I’d believe him. It’s a B-movie with A-plus production. It’s a wonderful, beautiful mess of a movie. If any of that sounds at all appealing to you, go out and see this one immediately.