A Cure for Wellness review – A powerful antidote to the ailments of modern horror
Rarely does a horror arrive that is able to defy the methodology of its less intelligent contemporaries by harking back to classic, Mary Shelley-style refinement, while still managing to champion the best of modern effects. Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is exactly that; a truly affecting and expert horror that is fathoms deeper than competitive horror offerings and is certain to be treasured with cult status.
This is made all the more impressive by that fact that Verbinski’s back-catalogue (despite his name literally holding the word ‘gore’ and his IMDB photo looking like an old photo of a missing person), up until this point, bore no hint of horror; only blockbusters and kids films that are far from renowned for their quality. This begs the question of whether Verbinski has always wanted to try making a horror. He is certainly long been a horror fan, quoting 70s psychological thrillers, such as Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, as his source of inspiration for the film. He has pointed out that in these narratives the story itself is conspiring, with everything having a purpose, even if it is beyond the protagonist’s comprehension. “This is the language that I grew up with” he has stated. It is very clear that horror is very firmly where Verbinski belongs and the prospects of what else he might create beyond this glorious film truly excites me.
Much of the film’s impact comes down to its thunderous and expert use of sound. The sound effects team on this project was made up of 22 people, so it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific person to credit for this and the acoustics of the screen that I saw the film in probably helped, but this is unlike an audible horror that you’ve experienced before. There’s a volcanic, mountainous rumbling behind so many quiet moments in the film, which brings a true suspense and anxiousness to even moments of simple dialogue. When the scarier horror moment do arrive, like a drill entering a tooth or eels filling up water thickly, these are equally suffused with similar booming noises, which are so loud that they almost feel deafening.
The cast is the next great tool at Verbinski’s disposal. Dane DeHann, as Chronicle managed to showcase a little, has a face and acting style that is absolutely perfect for an insane villain. I’ve always thought that if Twisted Nerve was being made now, DeHaan would be the absolute perfect casting choice. He would equally have fit just as at home in American Psycho, or even as Tate Langdon in American Horror Story. When Hollywood talks of its superbly talented up and comers there are few who truly have a skill that is elevated above the rest and DeHaan is one of these. Although DeHaan is not cast as the villain within this film, his excellence still shines through in his role as Lockhart, who holds an arrogant, sardonic attitude (at least at the beginning of the film), which allows the expert use of those villainous facial features. He’s perfect for it and he holds the film up well.
Another actor present, who I always adore in everything, is Jason Icaacs. Isaacs is an actor who somewhat came into the spotlight as a villain (as Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter), who has been sometimes utilised as a hero since (Awake), but who most expertly excels as an antagonist, which The OA recently proved wonderfully. This is a role that is very similar in ways to his role as Hap in The OA, in the respect of performing twisted experiments on people for his own gains. Isaacs plays by far his scariest and most formidable antagonist yet in A Cure for Wellness and he’s ideal for it. Verbinski has stated that he has long been a fan of Isaacs and that he wanted someone who could perfectly portray that all-knowing, powerful Headmaster-like persona.
Mia Goth is the third acting tour de force that Verbinski gets to play with. I myself have not seen any of her previous films, such as Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, for which she is known, so her brilliance here was a true revelation to me. Goth plays the innocent and kind, yet alluring girl who Lockhart sets his sights on rescuing. Looking far below her actual age, Goth executes that careful balance with grace and expert precision. Simple moments like her dancing in a local pub or riding her bike with Lockhart turn into classic and unforgettable moments, within her hands.
The narrative itself is like a calm, lucid nightmare. It slowly builds up clues to the film’s pervading mysteries, in a run time that is so long that you almost feel like you’ve never going to get those thoroughly conclusive, definitive answers. Then the film ventures beyond where you think it will end and provides an ending that wonderfully tackles those mysteries head on, providing very satisfying endgame answers that are far more horrific that you might assume.
There were only two small moments in this film that didn’t fully work for me. Other than these, this is a near on perfect piece of cinema. One was a moment where Celia Imrie’s character Victoria Watkins pulls close to Lockhart and tells him: “there is darkness here”. This long after Lockhart has already seen his fair share of strange events. To me this was a little too on the nose and wasn’t needed (her scrap book more than worked on its own). The other was DeHaan’s crazed smile, which he executes twice in the film. Although I feel that DeHaan is excellent and that he does pull off psycho killer perfectly in many ways, this smile is something that needs to grow on you (I think when I watch the film again, it won’t grate so harshly). I think it is perhaps more the timing of the smiles in the script that DeHaan’s execution.
A Cure for Wellness is a masterpiece of modern horror. If you’re a fan of stylised, intelligent and classic psychological horror, this is the film for you. It’s something so far beyond anything else that modern horror is producing at the moment that it makes you feel like this is the film that you (the horror fan) needed but didn’t even realise how badly you needed it. I truly hope that other filmmakers take cue from Verbinski and follow similar avenues. Make the effort to go and see this film. Expect it to be lengthy and brace yourself for an emotionally wrecking experience, and you just might come out enthralled and in thoroughly awe of Verbinski’s brilliance.
Image credits: Regency Enterprises, New Regency Productions, Blind Wink Productions, Studio Babelsberg, TSG Entertainment