An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure.
“Think of it as an enforced vacation.”
With Gore Verbinski’s latest outing, it’s clear that the chameleon director has been keeping something under wraps while making summer blockbusters. His output here is something quite unusual for a big studio film and unusual from a “what the hell did I just watch?” angle, too. Dumping into his screenplay for this feature is enough ideas, images, and themes to mount a hundred different films. Those more familiar with his work on The Ring remake will certainly appreciate his return to form with the body-horror detective story A Cure for Wellness.
Ambitious workaholic executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) has committed some serious ethical violations at his financial firm. When a possible merger with another firm is revealed, Lockhart is blackmailed into retrieving the CEO whose Swiss spa vacation has turned him mentally unstable. If Pembroke (Harry Groener) is returned and signs off on the merger it’s Lockhart who will keep the corner office while Pembroke gets reported to the SEC.
When he arrives at the idyllic wellness sanitarium high in the Swiss Alps Lockhart expects a smooth and quick turnaround with Pembroke. Unfortunately the facilities strict visiting hours window has closed. After he strong arms the help, Lockhart meets with Director Volmer, played with a cold Euro-sensibility by Jason Isaacs. "He’s a patient, not a prisoner," Volmer says, defending himself from the tough New York executive. Lockhart leaves to find a room in the village nearby for the night. An unforeseen accident turns his stay at the sanitarium from a few hours into a few days. Though previously hidden behind his cocky demeanor, Lockhart now begins to realize that the wellness center may not be what it seems. His search for Pembroke turns up more questions than answers.
There is a hypnotic clarity to the visual palette and presentation. Combine the steely precision of David Fincher with the tone of the classic Universal horror films to get an idea. Cinematographer Bajo Bazelli paints a cold, sinister portrait with his camera. The symmetry in shots, reflections, and colors are all synchronized but seem slightly askew as if one singular element was diluted or mixed incorrectly. As we follow Lockhart through the sanitarium Verbinski and Bazelli place more visual emphasis on the glassware and furnishings of the sanitarium than most films spend on their characters. Credited with shooting two Verbinski films The Ring and The Lone Ranger, Bazelli’s filmography gets my attention with his DP credits for Abel Ferrara’s King of New York and Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead. Clearly a pedigree suited for this disturbing gothic tale.
Unfortunately, Lockhart doesn’t come off as a likable person which at times can sabotage the film’s already slow momentum. When we’re introduced to him he’s popping Nicorette gum like candy, rubbing the bags under his eyes, and barking orders into his phone. The guy looks like death which DeHaan pulls off expertly. Most of Verbinski’s 146 minute film is couched in a detective story with Lockhart piecing together clues about the eerie gothic sanitarium. As the plot thickens you’re left with a thrilling story that engages some fantastical elements but your vessel for the story is a misguided executive out to save his own neck. Thankfully, Jason Isaacs provides a lovely diversion as Director Volmer who seemingly oozes through the film’s twists and turns. Relative newcomer Mia Goth supports the third side of this triangle with her ghostly portrayal of sanitarium patient Hannah.
I can’t go any further without mentioning Benjamin Wallfisch’s musical score. Eerie atmospherics, medieval choral textures, and sonorous harmonies are placed well throughout the surround mix making this one of the few potboilers I’d crank the volume just for the sheer enjoyment of the music. Dreamy harmonies rise through the tense atmospherics and float through the texture like eels in water culminating in a fiery waltz at the film’s utterly bonkers finale.
My favorite moment in the film is a music cue early in the story. The camera is gliding alongside Lockhart’s train enroute to Switzerland before it rises into the sky as the train enters a tunnel. A sudden dissonant synth chord evokes a fantastical dread and a not too subtle nod to John Carpenter. It makes me laugh a bit, knowing there will be something interesting if not fun as the plot thickens.
A Cure for Wellness is an imaginative and scary piece of fun with bold themes about health and modern life. Whatever Verbinski did to get this insane film pushed through the studio system in an age of superhero movies is beyond me. Production design and costumes are rewind-worthy. Nearly every shot is crammed to the rafters with allegory and a sense of foreboding resulting in a viewer anxious for resolution. Once the film starts really moving it becomes this icky Cronenberg-esque funhouse that is both thrilling and audacious.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Cure for Wellness checks in with a 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack thanks to 20th Century Fox. The film is pressed onto a BD50 Region A Blu-ray disc. Housed in a double Elite Eco case the Blu-ray disc and DVD Copy are packaged with an insert that provides information on various digital copies available. A slipcover is included as well. Blu-ray loads to a Quick Launch menu before cycling through a series of trailers. After the preview trailers you arrive at the Main Menu with animated selections and eerie music to help you make your decision.
A Cure for Wellness arrives on Blu-ray with a lush and detailed 1080p 1.78:1 presentation. Transfer reveals facial features with razor sharp clarity. Fine detail is an understatement! Blacks are dark and deep as they should be with such a dark production. No digital noise apparent. Though the color palette is cold and metallic colors pop rendering scenes crystal clear and well defined.
Armed with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless audio track, A Cure for Wellness sounds incredible. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch unique scoring elements utilize the entire 7.1 range. Whether in the cavernous echo chambers of the sanitarium or under a shade tree the ambient environment is reproduced nicely through the sound mix. Dialogue is clear and clean. Subtitles included: English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Deleted Sequence: “It’s Wonderful Here” (HD 4:46)
Meditations (HD) (DD 2.0) With a soothing/creepy narration and beautifully hypnotic imagery these three visual meditations will help you relax.
Water is the Cure (2:58)
Air is the Cure (2:44)
Earth is the Cure (2:42)
The Score (HD 4:08) Featurette in which composer Benjamin Wallfisch expands on his scoring of the film, his process, and motivations. The music resonated with me so I was happy to see this nice little piece on Wallfisch.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:55)
Red Band Trailer (HD 2:26)
International Trailer (HD 0:59)
UltraViolet Digital Copy
iTunes Digital Copy
Google Play Digital Copy
DVD Copy of Film
Verbinski has brought to life enough ideas to fill a hundred screenplays with this film. A Cure for Wellness will appeal to anyone who loves ambitious horror films or those that think Tim Burton has gotten too cute. I had a wonderful time watching it, but I could see why most audiences didn’t flock to see this horror thriller. I hope in turn that it’ll find an audience on home video. With a stellar A/V presentation 20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray only has the limited special features keeping it from being a great package. Recommended.