A Cure for Wellness

Year: 2017
Production Co: Regency Enterprises
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Justin Haythe/Gore Verbinski
Cast: Dan DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Celia Imrie

Despite the mostly daming reviews I couldn't help but like A Cure for Wellness. It was beautifully designed, had some gorgeous imagery and the one single element so few movies today are missing – a story that had me wondering and guessing until the end. It doesn't have an entirely successful denouement and the movie's ultimately unsatisfactory as a result, but it's a better attempt at pure cinema storytelling than plenty of far better-resourced productions manage nowadays.

A ruthless executive in the big city, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, suffering another expensive flop soon after with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) is blackmailed by his employers into travelling to a remote health spa in the Swiss Alps where the rich and powerful go to unplug from society and find their equilibrium again thanks to the highly mineralised local water.

His mission is the retreive their AWOL CEO before the company goes bust, but even though nothing's overtly wrong – from the friendly proprieter Volmer (Jason Isaacs), the groundsman boarding up a low grate in the middle of the night, the way the hepful staff keep telling Lockhart he's just missed his mysterious boss and the other patients who are just a bit too enthusiastic – the sense of unease is palpable.

While he agitates to be taken to the man and convince him to come back, Lockhart reluctantly lets his new hosts talk him into partaking of some of the treatments on offer. He also seems to be hallucinating about horrific visions (most often eels), but he can't figure out what's wrong.

There's also a beautiful young woman named Hannah (Mia Goth) roaming the grounds who's as mysterious and eccentric as the rest of the goings-on. The story, by director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Justine Haythe, has a lot more subplots and asides, all of which add to both the air of mystery and the lush production design of the film, and wondering where it's all going to lead in the end will keep you gripped if you let it do its work.

There are several scenes of outright horror including an eel-delivering machine that will haunt your dreams and a quite problematic hint of sexual violence (it actually makes me wonder whether that accounted for some of the negative views in this day and age), but it's not really a horror movie.

The locale and the scenery make it more of a gothic thriller, and while it ultimately doesn't answer as many questions as it raises, it looks amazing throughout and you can see how much care has been put into building it from the ground up. There are a good number of iconic visual motifs like the bottles of water, the eels and more, and the tone, mood, emotional register and atmosphere are all faultless.

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