We live in a time when almost every horror movie is either a pale prequel/remake/sequel of an old classic, or a cheap home movie filmed on an outdated video camera held by an obnoxious spaz of a cameraman. A Cure For Wellness defies this status quo by being the one thing studios fear most: original.
When the CEO of a company declares his withdrawal from society, the fledgling executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is sent to Switzerland to find his wayward superior and bring him back to New York City. It is in the Swiss Alps that Lockhart discovers a hidden darkness that chains his boss and many others to a mysterious wellness center. Now, he must do everything he can to escape the idyllic institution alive and more importantly, sane.
A Cure For Wellness is a rarity in a genre lacking innovation, and for that alone, the movie deserves praise. But being a special snowflake in a field wrought by creative drought isn’t that big a praise when you stop to think about it.
Sanity Is Overrated
From an aesthetic and narrative standpoint, A Cure For Wellness hearkens back to the time when horror movies prioritized story over thrills. This movie is not the typical kind of modern horror movie where dumb, interchangeable horny teenagers die by the dozen, but a psychological horror movie that messes with minds. The scares take time to get under viewers’ skins, allowing the audience to absorb and dread every second of how unsafe Lockhart is. If you’re expecting vapid jump scares every five seconds, A Cure For Wellness is not the horror movie for you.
While some of the visuals in A Cure For Wellness may not be the most original, familiar staples such as creepy girls and Gothic hospitals are presented in ways that make them fresh. Most of the frights originate from the uncertainty of the main character’s sanity, and the depiction of his crumbling mindset along with the accompanying hallucinations do their job in planting equal amounts of fear and doubt. Given how the movie was directed by the man behind the excellent remake of The Ring, this mastery of imagery shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
If A Cure For Wellness maintained this gradual insanity throughout the entire picture, the experience would have been truly disturbing. As implied by my wording, this is not the case and the movie pays a hefty price for its crippling self-indulgence.
A Cure For Wellness suffers from its own ambition – ironic, given how some characters demonize the mere idea of wanting to make something of your life. The story is overlong and filled with interesting yet needless subplots that add little to the resolution. Individually, elements such as brainwashing, human experiments, and torture are disturbing, but A Cure For Wellness attempts to combine these acts of sadism into one feature, resulting in a cluttered torture chamber. Though unsettling, certain scenes of bodily and mental harm could have been shortened or removed entirely without being detrimental to the narrative.
The desire to do more than necessary also affects the central mystery. There are times when the movie could have ended on a chilling note, but it instead chooses to drag on while piling plot twist upon plot twist. To call the pacing in A Cure For Wellness “slow” would be an understatement, as this case of slow burn can be considered to be a form of torture under the Cinematic Geneva Convention. At first, it’s a welcome change of pace for a current horror movie to take its time in building a foreboding atmosphere, but there comes a point when it’s hard to tell if the movie’s building up to something big, or if it’s just stalling because it doesn’t know if it should be a purely psychological horror story or one with a supernatural slant.
The movie also presents itself as cerebral, but it only comes off as lacking. There are interesting themes that the movie wants to tackle, such as a person’s alleged insanity and the cost of pride, but these are never fully developed. It’s implied that these concepts will define an ideological confrontation befitting of the best psychological horrors, only for them to be unceremoniously dropped in favor of a rushed ending complete with a fistfight. Without giving away too much, A Cure For Wellness opens as a subtle and surreal nightmare, but ends with a noisy brawl that belongs in something like Predator – complete with one, ugly motherfucker.
The Cure for Blandness
Given how the horror genre has been in a slump that it’s only now getting out of, A Cure For Wellness pales in comparison to the genre’s better recent examples of psychological horrors, such as The Babadook (2014) or The Witch (2015). While horror veterans may find something to enjoy in this movie, newcomers and casual viewers may either deem the movie boring or at worst, pretentious.
Despite being a chore to watch especially in the middle act, A Cure For Wellness deserves credit for standing out. The movie is flawed, but it respects its audience and never panders to them by going for the easiest possible scares. A Cure For Wellness takes its time to unfold and disturb audiences, rather than assaulting viewers with a barrage of cheap scares and deafening music. This is the kind of movie that forces viewers to think, even if the payoff is not as deep as the filmmakers hoped it would be.
A Cure For Wellness is convinced of its artistry despite bearing strong similarities to B-grade horror movies, 3, and wholly average at best. But it’s still better than most of the brain-dead junk that passes off as “horror” these days. In a time when a collection of poorly put-together security camera footage can somehow garner an entire franchise, a movie like A Cure For Wellness that actually acknowledges its viewers’ thinking capacity is more than welcome, even if it’s a faulty experiment and not a medical success.