Ah, so this is what it feels like to love a Gore Verbinski film again. Oh, how I missed it!
Verbinski is a fascinating director in how he manages to sneak in some really, really weird stuff while working within the big Hollywood studio system. It’s made him an interesting filmmaker to see develop over the years from a childhood favorite of mine, Mousehunt, to recent stuff like Rango. But somewhere along the way, he got snagged along the Pirates franchise (which I honestly didn’t like since the very beginning), and I more or less given up on the guy. I know that The Lone Ranger has its defenders, but aside from some top quality action sequences, I didn’t find it particularly engaging.
But this…this is my shit.
I’m talking about A Cure for Wellness, an original gothic horror film, which was written by Justin Haythe, who developed the story with Verbinski. It’s a classic set-up, a young Wall Street hotshot, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is sent to a remote medical facility in Switzerland to bring back his company’s CEO. Everything seems fine at first – however, slowly, but surely, things are revealed that forces Lockhart to question the very nature of the facility, and to act fast before succumbing to the dark underbelly that awaits him.
Think Shutter Island by way of Crimson Peak, sprinkle a little bit of The Shining in there, some Cronenbergian body horror, and perhaps a skosh of The Abominable Dr. Phibes for good measure. It’s a film where Gore Verbinski is given template that most genre fans will be familiar with, and he just goes with it, and not only does he go with it, he takes it to some sick places. It’s shocking to me that this is something that came out of the studio system because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major studio release something this messed up in the head, at least not in a while. Verbinski stretches his muscles here, and he pulls off something that is simultaneously beautiful, and psychologically scarring. It’s incredible.
Admittedly, there are things you could still point at and saying it’s Verbinski repeating some of the same mistakes. Yes, it’s very long, the pacing is off, and some of the plotting is a bit sloppy. However, whereas in some of his other films, I found that those issues are generally involved in how he expresses his sometimes overtly complicated plot threads, here his indulgences all serve to further unsettle you in its atmosphere, and to create this sense of oppression. It completely puts you in the mindset of Lockhart, as he finds himself trapped and constantly facing horrific imagery, one right after the other. The film is gross, oppressive and unpleasant by design, so there is no doubt in my mind that it is going to irk many people.
I can’t get into a whole lot of the film because to do so would require spoiling some of the juicy and bloody details, and I can’t in good conscious do that. I found myself giddy at seeing how Verbinski manages to keep topping the nastiness from one scene to the next, especially once the final act kicks in (because I’m a monster, apparently). A Cure for Wellness isn’t necessarily groundbreaking for its genre, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s an opportunity for the filmmaker to create an experience that you don’t get as much anymore, and only someone with a razor sharp vision like Gore Verbinski could pull it off. Add to that a really top notch cast with Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, and Jason Isaacs, and you got yourselves a horror treat that will be unlike anything you’ll see from the mainstream in a while. Just be sure to finish your movie theater snacks during the first half.
And also, watch Crimson Peak when you get the chance. Not enough people saw it (or appreciated it for that matter).