Dec 20, 2018
We’re back with another film streaming on HBO, this time with a film heavily divided among critics, similar to the reviews for “mother!” (Episode #245). It’s our first Gore Verbinski film for the podcast, but certainly not the last. If you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “A Cure for Wellness” (2017), the science fiction thriller directed by Gore Verbinski and written for the screen by Justin Haythe, based on a story developed with Gore Verbinski. The film follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious executive sent to retrieve CEO Pembrooke (Harry Groener) from a mysterious and elite spa in the Swiss Alps. After arriving, Lockhart meets Director Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and breaks his leg in an accident while trying to leave. Now Lockhart must find Pembrooke and escape before it’s too late.
You can’t tell every story using film as a medium. Some stories require a different kind of relationship with the audience, one that needs to be built with a lot of backstory and over a longer span of time than can comfortably fit within a film. It doesn’t matter how great the story is if it doesn’t fit the medium. Case in point, “A Cure for Wellness” has an excellent story, one that spans both time and society, delves deep into philosophical matters, and weaves an impressive Gothic tale for the modern era. It is an expansive story, better suited for a limited series. It is also a cerebral story, better suited for a written format. It’s just not right for the screen, or rather, it can’t be made to fit the screen with the intended impact, at least not without losing a significant portion of an increasingly impatient audience.
Verbinski attempts to overcome these limitations in two ways. First, the cerebral aspects of the story are moved into equal parts visual hallucinations and intentionally empty performances, neither of which can best capture the subtleties of losing one’s grip over reality. Second, the expansive nature of the story is told using a breadcrumb trail of lore that Lockhart discovers prior to arriving, from the people he meets, and the information he learns during his stay. A written work would bury the key details within paragraphs of lore, making them difficult to piece together until the appropriate moment. However, the film format requires distilling the dialogue down to the bare minimum needed to tell the story, and avid genre fans will be able to connect the dots too fast. The story tips its hand too much, telegraphing the sequence of events to follow, and makes the final act felt like it’s going through the motions.
It feels way too long, at nearly two and a half hours, despite being visually stunning in nearly all respects. The cast does their best with the script, but the performances almost uniformly seem to deteriorate as the film trudges on. It’s sort of a shame, really, because the film uses water as a metaphor really well, and looks at the effects of ambition on the individual and society, and when all is revealed, a look at how short-sighted humanity has become while achieving more than ever before. Great themes and excellent effects are not enough to make a great film, though, and the mismatched format for the story ultimately creates too many problems in execution.
“A Cure for Wellness” (2017) is a cerebral story told through a journey into madness, spanning centuries and dealing with too many themes and too much backstory to comfortably fit the film format. Verbinski and Haythe take a shared story and do their best to adapt it to the screen, but the film ultimately ends up too long and too cerebral for its own good. Fans of films that make you think, and fans of gothic horror tales, may want to make the commitment to watch the film, but it may leave you unsatisfied if you lose patience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
One Movie Punch: 7.4/10
“A Cure for Wellness” (2017) is rated R and is currently streaming on HBO.