When Lockhart, a young company executive, is sent to bring back the firm’s CEO from a remote Swiss Alps sanatorium, he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the increasingly strange goings-on.
The Shining Meets Hammer Horror
A Cure For Wellness might be best described as a psychological horror. But it seems limiting to consign it solely to this box. The films it shares space with in this narrowly defined subgenre may have some similarities but Gore Verbinski’s film could exist in a genre all its own.
That isn’t to say it doesn’t remind you of anything. It’s reminiscent of loads of stuff you’ve seen on screen, from The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Salò, American Horror Story and Shutter Island. By way of the recent Youth starring Michael Caine, and classic Hammer horror. Yet at the same time, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
The film is framed by a story involving the corporate world – specifically a financial services company. The firm’s offices are both sterile and hostile. This is a world that cares little for people, and a lot for money.
So, that the business is under scrutiny because of a controversial merger and that they’ve uncovered some shady dealings on the part of Lockhart is of major concern for the board. Not only that, the CEO has sent a bizarre letter of resignation from his Alpine spa hideaway. They promptly dispatch the young and ambitious Lockhart to retrieve the absent Chief Exec.
Lockhart senses straight away something’s not right here. At this peculiar, Kafka-esque, time-warped facility, they seem to play mind games – they’re plainly intent on keeping him from seeing Pembroke (the CEO) but at the same time he’s told he’s welcome to speak to him.
A car accident as he drives away lands Lockhart in a bed at the wellness centre. He wakes up with his leg in a cast and instructions to drink the water. At this place, it’s all about the water. But you just know he shouldn’t drink the water. Especially when he’s being told to do so by a creepy-ass Jason Isaacs as the facility’s head practitioner.
Unearthly and Disconcerting
Plunged into a rabbit hole and unable to leave, Lockhart is sucked into the labyrinthine weirdness as he attempts to uncover the mysteries of just what the heck is going on here. Visions and supernatural happenings plus a suggestion of nefarious enterprises confirm that all is not legit – but are we as viewers meant to assume it’s the place or the film itself that’s playing tricks on us?
There are moments when we question, along with Lockhart, whether he’s losing his mind. He’s come from a high-pressure corporate world, after all, that’s bound to have ramifications – and with Shutter Island in our minds, as sophisticated viewers, we surmise there might well be a twist coming.
But if this film is anything, it’s unpredictable. Uneasy as scenes where Lockhart receives a little primitive dentistry might make us feel, though, it’s nothing compared to the way Mia Goth’s presence disconcerts. Wafting around barefoot, an eyebrowless ethereal manifestation, she sets us on edge. We don’t know whether she’s really there, for a start, plus her character is a curious, stunted girl; a woman trapped in a girl’s mind. It’s not until Lockhart takes her away from the spa down into the village that she seems to break free of this strange childish state of being – we see her fast forward to womanhood.
It’s at this point that the film unleashes its most jarring moments. Wicker Man-style scenes unfurl ahead of the film’s campy Hammer horror-inspired denouement.
Is ‘A Cure For Wellness’ Good?
Filled with WTF moments, A Cure For Wellness is inventive and tells its story without rushing. A commentary on society, the cult of wellness and the pursuit of youth, it’s never a straightforward horror film. Instead, it’s a jolting journey into the absurd with something damning to say about the way we live our lives.