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.

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 – and 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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