Monday 21 August 2017

Review: A Cure for Wellness

Year: 2017
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Synopsis is here:

Subjected to understandably mixed reviews, as well as the relatively dubious release date of February, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness may suffer from periods of stiffness, yet showcases its director as a peculiar and ambitious visual stylist who’s willingness and enjoyment in creating macabre moments often goes unpraised.

Since The Mexican (2001) Verbinski has happily suggested that his work is a little off the beaten track. A touch askew of the conventional direction. Especially in a visual sense. The prime example would be the third Pirates of the Caribbean entry, which merrily decides upon flirting with the surreal with Jack Sparrow trapped in the cheekily absurd Davey Jones Locker, after playing a losing hand with a Kraken. The strange, Burton-esque vibe pulled off by the sequence, almost feels as if someone laced parts of the fantasy swashbuckler with LSD for a laugh.

When not subverting typically standard fare like quirky rom-com The Mexican (2001), or children’s fantasies such as the Chinatown tinged Rango (2011), Verbinski clearly shows a love for all-round darkness. Mark Kermode is always quick to note the depressing tone set in Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, where proceedings start with the hanging of an innocent child. However, in looking at most of the director’s work, it’s clear that this is a filmmaker who wishes to walk the dark path. Consider the serial killer bookend from the American remake of The Ring (2002), which was cut before theatrical release. Verbinski is nearly always looking to work a bit of edge into his features.

This brings us to A Cure for Wellness, which cheerfully smashes together elements of gothic melodrama, sci-fi and mystery and binds them with distinctly macabre visuals. It leans towards the likes of Shutter Island (2010) and Shock Corridor (1963) yet also seems to hint at the likes of The Ninth Configuration (1980). Verbinski brings out all his visual tricks here, delivering distorted horror film angles and wrapping them in in an absurd plot which plays notes on anti-capitalism, incest and new alternative medicine all the way to foreign mistrust and of course insanity. The film plays most of these parts fairly well, with many scenes giving off a disturbing sense of unease. This includes one particularly gruesome moment, in which those with a phobia of dentists should stay clear from.

Where A Cure for Wellness fails is the same thing that Verbinski often stumbles on: economics. With a hefty running time of two and a half hours, A Cure for Wellness fails where something like Crimson Peak (2016) succeeds; the usage of time. Verbinski’s storytelling always has a way of loading a running time in such a way, that could easily be an effectively lean chiller now becomes a beautiful, but ungainly distraction.  Once we get to the films slightly over-egged climax, we release that Dane DeHaan’s selfish trader protagonist was never really that compelling to really engage with. We should, however, give three cheers to Jason Issacs (Hello) however, as the film, much like Netflix’s frustratingly shallow The OA (2016), is a tremendous showcase for his continuous good work. Hoorah.