A Cure for Wellness: A movie designed to make you sick

What might have been a fun B movie is turned instead into an overly long, big-budget disaster that takes itself far too seriously.

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click to enlarge Dane DeHaan stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Cure for Wellness.” - 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Dane DeHaan stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Cure for Wellness.”

You have to give director Gore Verbinski this much: He's not one for understatement. The man who brought you The Ring, several installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and 2013's epic flop The Lone Ranger is back working in the horror genre with Cure for Wellness. And boy, does he go for it.

Whatever it is that happens to squick you out — body horror or dental horror, tapeworms or flesh-eating eels, drowning or car crashes, naked old folks or even incestuous rape — Verbinski is there, like the mad doctor in this tale of a Eurotrash sanitarium, ready to turn all the dials up to 11.

Which might have been a fun exercise if Verbinski and the other principles were to embrace the campy Roger Corman-esque B movie that Cure for Wellness really is at heart. Instead, what we get is an overly long (146 minutes), big-budget disaster that doesn't ever seem fully conscious of its own ludicrousness.

The plot is familiar enough that you'll be sure you've seen this movie before. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a slimy young rising star in a vaguely described New York "financial services" firm who is dispatched, at the point of blackmail, to retrieve the company's CEO Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener, best-known as "The Mayor" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) from a spa retreat in the Swiss Alps after Pembroke announced he's never coming back home.

Upon his arrival at the Volmer Institute, Lockhart discovers a facility occupied by over-the-hill elites from all over the globe. They play croquet on the lawn, take tea in white bathrobes and all seem to share the same dazed expression of cultists and the body-snatched. All rave about the healing and life-restoring powers of the resort's natural springs, so of course, we know immediately that that's where the big bad brain-controlling bugs must live.

Before long, Lockhart is also admitted as a patient, thanks to a broken leg suffered in a car accident. He comes under the care of the facility's director, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs, otherwise known as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), whose on-screen visage would immediately signal "I am the moustache-twirling villain" if only he had a moustache to twirl. Lockhart also meets the beautiful-but-haunted-looking teenage Hannah (played by the aptly named Mia Goth), the only other patient who appears to be under the age of 60.

Dr. Volmer appears to have some dark, creepy designs on Hannah that only become darker and creepier the more Lockhart learns about the spa's ancient mysteries. And of course, she begins to feel romantic stirrings for Lockhart. We know this because after spending time with him, there is a scene in which Hannah wades fully dressed into a swimming pool and experiences her first menstruation, as flesh-eating eels whip around between her legs. Subtle, it is not.

It should be noted that the car-crash scene would have to count as a triumph if it didn't bear so strong resemblance to the one cinematographer Bojan Bazelli previously shot for last year's Pete's Dragon. Self-plagiarism might not be the worst crime, but it is a bit disappointing.

Nonetheless, the work done here by Bazelli production designer Eve Stewart clearly mark the film's highlights, as they make great use of Germany's real Hohenzollern Castle for the Volmer Institute's exteriors and the real Soviet-era East German mental asylum Beelitz-Heilstätten for its creepy interiors, complete with all manner of terrifying steampunk medical equipment.

It is a handsome film, if ultimately, one even more sapped of life than the institute's ill-fated patients.

A Cure for Wellness

2 of 5 stars

Rated R. Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth.

In theaters now.

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