It is a question worth pondering, how many films would unfold differently were Americans more inclined to wear their seat belts, and certainly at almost two and a half hours Gore Verbinksi’s A Cure for Wellness offers sufficient time to consider this and much else, and from the director of The Curse of the Black Pearl (143 minutes), Dead Man’s Chest (150 minutes), At World’s End (168 minutes) and The Lone Ranger (149 minutes) perhaps it is should be no surprise that his latest might be better seeking A Cure for Indulgence.
Opening with the death of a salesman, his responsibility passes to hotshot executive Lockhart (Life After Beth’s Dane DeHaan) who, in order to avoid sacrifice on the altar of corporate expedience following discovery of financial misdeeds, is despatched by the board to retrieve CEO Roland Pembroke (a subdued performance by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Harry Groener) from his retreat in the Swiss Alps.
On the train to the sanatorium Lockhart is established as an impatient, intolerant man in a scene without subtlety which typifies the slow progress of the film to establish any more than minimal information which continues with the obstruction Lockhart encounters at his destination. Hoping for a swiftly executed exit, the staff of the “wellness centre” request he return the next day, but as he is chauffeured back down the mountain road the car overturns.
Awakening with his leg in plaster, Lockhart is now a patient of the mysterious institute of Doctor Heinreich Volmer (Event Horizon‘s Jason Isaacs), an unorthodox physician obsessed with the curative properties of the waters of the aquifer upon which the sprawling residence sits, rebuilt on the same site as the original, burned to the ground two hundred years previously by the outraged villagers along with the baron and his sister/bride, but Lockhart is determined to complete his assignment despite doctor’s orders.
The most astonishing thing about A Cure for Wellness is the minimal occurrence, for there is little in the way of plot or character to engage the mind to any significant degree, a series of incidents which amount to treading water involving swimming pools, reflecting pools, toilet cisterns, underground lakes, mysterious vials of liquid ingested by the residents and staff and a freaky flotation tank with MC Doctor Volmer on the mic with his beat poetry.
While the location moves from the valleys between the skyscrapers of New York City where the only water is the grey rain and the East River into which Lockhart’s father threw himself to the valleys between the mountains, the environment is just as artificial, all the residents dressed in the same white robes, the same black swimming costumes, the pastel colour scheme of the walls reflected even in the kites the residents fly when not engaged in badminton or croquet, only Lockhart and the mysterious Hannah (The Tunnel’s Mia Goth) in pale sky blue, yet these clues do not accrete to a deeper significance.
While more restrained that Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, that is not saying a great deal, and the feeling is of an attempt to emulate the films of Tim Burton, just not the good ones, and preposterous contrivances pile up faster than meaning. Despite being told his leg was broken in the accident Lockhart is in no pain and receives no painkillers, there is no visible bruising as he wanders the tiled corridors wearing no more than a towel, nor does he, the corporate bulldog, even glance at the papers he is asked to sign.
Curiously, neither patient nor doctor ask about or allude to the fate of the driver, his character apparently having served his purpose, though a later appearance indicates he miraculously survived unscathed, but akin to the negligent attitude towards car safety there is seemingly no requirement in Switzerland for any other safety measures, the facility having no fire alarms and no sprinkler system despite evidently being built entirely from flammable materials, though the country does boast exploding cows.
While The Nightmare Man‘s Celia Imrie is given a delightfully dotty if short lived supporting role, none of the cast are given material worthy of their talent, and the tedious revelations do not bear the weight of water pressing down on them, Justin Haythe’s screenplay amounting to nothing more than a tiresome and repetitive variation of Roger Corman’s many Poe adaptations which were told in half the time and for a fraction of the budget with considerably more verve.
That the locals find Hannah’s dance “provocative” indicates just how little they have in the way of entertainment, but lifeless, listless and colourless, Hotel California composed of new age mumbo jumbo rather than seventies rock excess, A Cure for Wellness is likely to be less a stimulant for the masses than a cure for anything other than chronic insomnia.