Director Gore Verbinksi’s A Cure for Wellness will immediately draw comparisons to Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010), a film that is also primarily set at a strange and possibly haunted medical facility, with a similarly creepy atmosphere and enigmatic plot. But despite the apparent resemblance, Shutter Island is a far superior film in every respect. A Cure for Wellness stars Dane DeHaan as Lockhart, a workaholic executive at a financial firm. The company’s board of directors sends Lockhart to a remote wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company’s CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), who left a letter explaining that he has checked himself into the center and has no intention of returning. The board wishes to bring the CEO back because the company is under investigation and wishes to pin the crimes on Pembroke. Lockhart reluctantly agrees to take on the mission and sets off for the center. However, when he arrives, the staff gives him the runaround, and comes up with various reasons why Pembroke is unable to see him. After various failed attempts to retrieve Pembroke, Lockhart leaves the facility, only to get in a car accident, after which he awakens in the wellness center with a broken leg. As Lockhart discovers more about the center, he realizes that things are not quite as they seem, and the center’s director, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is at the heart of a dark and sinister plan.
Though the plot of A Cure for Wellness sounds promising at first glance, the film quickly shows its weaknesses and ultimately devolves into a nonsensical mess. The central players in the film portray the characters ably, but there is nothing remarkable about any one performance, as they are all built on an inherently flawed script. The film takes a very long time to even hint at the backstory of the wellness center, and when its secrets are finally revealed to us, they are incredibly disappointing and somewhat confusing. Rather than developing a plausible reason for all of the strange occurrences and behavior at the facility, the film relies far too heavily on fantasy to tie all of the loose ends together. There’s nothing wrong with this approach per se, after all, Scorsese did something similar in Shutter Island, though he left the audience guessing as to what exactly happened. Unfortunately, A Cure for Wellness does the exact opposite, and over-explains the subpar conclusion.
So as not to be overly negative, it must be said that A Cure for Wellness is a beautiful film to watch. On a $40 million budget, and with much of the film shooting on location in Germany, the picturesque backdrop provides some visual appeal to help make up for the bland story. Some of the exterior shots of the center were filmed at Hohenzollern Castle, making the setting sufficiently creepy and authentically European. It was technically a coproduction of the United States and Germany, but the film lacks any kind of European film aesthetics beyond the setting, instead adopting the more familiar, predictable, and profitable American style.
While the film has numerous opportunities to address certain philosophical quandaries, the filmmakers choose to completely ignore them. The script practically begs for discussions on ethics in medicine and the double-edged sword of eternal life. Sadly, nothing is addressed at more than a surface level; instead the film makes Lockhart’s “journey” laughably cliché, as it takes him experiencing the horrors of the wellness center to see that the corporate world is ultimately unsatisfying and heartless. It feels as though a lot of thought went into the initial premise, and as a result of rewrites, constraints on production, artistic differences, or all of the above, the final product is just a jumbled mess of half-decent ideas and an uninspired ending. Without giving too much away, the script (written by Justin Haythe in collaboration with Verbinski) does attempt to be “edgy” by adding rather graphic instances of incest, but they feel out of place in a film that would have otherwise been a PG-13 snooze fest.
Rating: ★½ out of 5
A Cure for Wellness is currently available to purchase or rent on Amazon here.