A young financial executive is given a unique task. He must travel to Europe in order to retrieve the CEO of the company he works for. The CEO has been staying at a wellness center at the base of the Swiss Alps and doesn’t seem to have any intention of leaving. Upon the young executive’s arrival it is immediately apparent there is something strange about this place. After an accident, the man becomes a patient at the center, giving him time to discover its dark secrets.
A Cure for Wellness creates an atmospheric gothic tale set in modern times. It is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in a while. In the beginning the setting is in the modern high rises of New York, but once the audience is taken to the wellness center it is almost like going back in time. There is no technology at this place aside from things that would have been available more than fifty years ago. Even the way the staff dresses has an old fashioned feel. It makes the setting almost feel whimsical while being ominous at the same time. The cinematography used throughout the film only enhances this look and feel, giving viewers a visual feast.
The plot in this film at times comes across as convoluted, but overall I enjoyed it. There is a clear sense throughout the film of insanity. It comes across through the lead character. As he digs deeper into the past of the wellness center and their treatments there is a sense that he may actually be losing his mind. Are his discoveries real or a figment of his imagination? This is enhanced by showcasing a series of bizarre images that are not necessarily relevant to the plot. In all honesty, these scenes are unnecessary. The film is already lengthy. By adding random images it stretches the film out too much and only succeeds in confusing the audience instead of helping them further understand the story. There is a level of hypersexualization in many of these scenes that feels forced and irrelevant to what is going on. There are also many references to eels throughout the film. While there is one small explanation for their importance, there are also scenes which include the eels that are not explained enough. If you push aside the more random and unexplainable aspects of the film you will find a very interesting and unique plot hidden within. The filmmakers did an excellent job of slowly divulging details one by one until the climax of the film where the horrific truth is revealed.
This film has an outstanding cast from the leads to the smaller outlying characters. The three leads are particular standouts. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man) portrayed the young executive, Lockhart. His performance stands out because he manages to portray a character who is determined to find the truth and complete his task while also making it appear that his sanity is unraveling. Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) plays Volmer, the head of the wellness center. As always Isaacs does an amazing job of creating a menacing character that is also quite charming. We also get to watch relative newcomer Mia Goth (Everest, The Survivalist) as the only young patient at the wellness center, Hannah. Goth exudes such innocence and naivety in this film, creating a stark contrast to the darkness that surrounds her.
The effects in A Cure for Wellness are minimal, but very well done. One of the more common effects seen throughout the film is the CGI eels. The eels are often shown in the film and the effects are very well done. I never look at them thinking they are not real eels. The only other definitively CGI effects are seen at the climax of the film. I won’t go into too much detail since it would be a spoiler, but the CGI in this particular scene does not appear quite as realistic as the eels, yet it still leaves quite an impression. On multiple occasions the audience is shown patients at the wellness center who appear greatly emaciated. This effect is so well done that I honestly can’t tell you if it is done with practical effects or CGI. Whichever method is used, the filmmakers manage to make people look gaunt and skeletal in a very realistic way.
A Cure for Wellness gives audiences a unique story dripping with fantastical imagery and gothic styling. At the same time the film is also riddled with scenes that could be considered fluff and some aspects that are left unexplained. Some people will leave the theater feeling unimpressed and bored. Others will be able to look past some of the flaws to see the beautiful film that lies within. While this film will likely end up polarizing audiences one way or the other, I would say that it is at least worth a watch. If you don’t enjoy the plot the way I do, you can at least enjoy the artistry in the way the story was filmed.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10