Review: ‘A Cure for Wellness’ makes a case for big budget horror

Gore Verbinski‘s return to horror cost a lot of money, and that’s (mostly) a good thing.

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Big-budget studio horror films (especially R-rated ones) are such a rarity that whenever one comes out it almost feels like a special treat. While creators in the genre have managed to churn out a multitude of brilliant and terrifying works on low budgets (in fact, many of the best and/or most memorable horror films of all time have been lower-budget endeavors), there is a certain sumptuousness that a big budget can provide Рand that is the essence of what the $40 million, Gore Verbinski-directed, A Cure For Wellness offers. Well, that and a big dose of gothic horror weirdness.

A ruthlessly ambitious young executive¬†(Dane DeHaan) finds himself caught up in a mystery at a sanitorium high in the Swiss Alps, where the over-worked and over-rich seek health and vitality. He’s sent there at the behest of his bosses¬†in order to retrieve¬†a colleague (for nefarious purposes), but he soon discovers that it’s much easier to check in to this old-timey spa than it is to check out. What darkness lies within the depths of these walls?¬†Can the head doctor (Jason Isaacs) be trusted? A¬†strange young woman (Mia Goth) might hold a¬†key. Will our young executive¬†find “the cure”?

The trailers for Cure¬†give a lot away in terms of what to expect from the film, but they don’t fully reveal the extent of how weird the movie actually gets, so prepare yourself for a pretty strange ride.

There are¬†notes of¬†classic gothic tales like¬†Frankenstein and Dracula, and also newer films like Shutter Island,¬†and¬†even Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But it¬†is¬†an imaginative tale in its own right, and¬†its certainly¬†no movie for¬†kids.¬†It’s¬†twisted and provocative and earns its R-rating via¬†some pretty adult themes and unsettling¬†scenes.

It’s also rather¬†long, with a 2-hour and 26-minute run time. While this lends itself to a bit of¬†bloat, it also allows for¬†a mystery that unfolds slowly – drip, drip, dripping clues across a bizarre dreamscape of¬†scenes involving eels, dental drills, maze-like steam baths¬†and more. It¬†also allows for plenty of time to marvel¬†at¬†Bojan Bazelli’s stunning¬†cinematography, which, combined¬†with Verbinski’s vision, creates a rich tapestry of atmospheric eye-candy – a sort of¬†immersion therapy worth the price of admission itself.

Like similar big-budget gothic horror films before it, Cure at times is over-the-top to the point of¬†near¬†cheesiness.¬†Where¬†there are budgetary gains in style and production quality, there are, as is often the case,¬†some losses in the story department. Certain¬†plot devices¬†feel a little trite,¬†others too on the nose, and still others a bit of a stretch¬†– (the final 30 minutes or so get pretty crazy). But it’s ultimately entertaining nonetheless.

Though¬†not as straight-up scary as Verbinski’s last horror film, The Ring (2002), Cure¬†does have a good deal of intrigue, suspense and creepiness, really solid performances (DeHaan is a standout), a number¬†of¬†squirm-inducing moments and of course, those stunning visuals. Overall, A Cure For Wellness is¬†a spooky, engaging, entertaining and welcome respite from the low-budget horror machine.

The bottom line:

Strange, disturbing and inarguably gorgeous, A Cure for Wellness is a gift for gothic horror fans and a fine enough temporary cure for the horrors of the outside world.

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