Excellent visuals prop up formulaic plot
From its very opening — a stunningly gloomy shot of New York skyscrapers overlaid with a haunting tune — “A Cure for Wellness” establishes a grim tone that only intensifies throughout the next two-and-a-half hours. Just moments later, viewers are treated to another striking visual — an office that empty and pristine except for a man’s corpse lying by the water cooler in one of those skyscrapers.
Over the course of the film, viewers are treated to additional stunning images, and the plot only grows darker and more disturbing. “A Cure for Wellness” is a classic Gothic horror story complete with all the familiar tropes, and Director Gore Verbinski proves willing to go to great lengths to get the audience’s skin crawling.
The film is set at a truly picturesque spa and wellness center nestled in the Swiss Alps. The story follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) as he visits the center to retrieve his company’s CEO — who went for treatment at the center and never returned — in order to finalize a merger.
The classic horror movie plot is clear almost right from the start. The center is remote, with only one driver providing transport up to the mountaintop location. Lockhart is warned many times that no one ever returns from the center once they’ve checked in. Of course, though, he ignores the warnings. On the mountain, there are mysterious ghost stories about scientific experiments gone wrong years ago as well as a creepy-looking girl who warns Lockhart that there’s something in the water.
“A Cure for Wellness” follows the Gothic horror formula to the letter. This mimicry is for a good reason — dating back to Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker, Gothic horror has made for truly suspenseful and terrifying entertainment. Though the plot isn’t exactly inspired, there is still plenty of original horror to be enjoyed.
The wellness center — for reasons which eventually become clear — is infested with flesh-eating eels. This unfortunate problem, which is coupled with the center’s focus on aquatherapy, makes for some incredibly disturbing moments. In one of the movie’s many strikingly impressive shots, the viewers will watch in terror as Lockhart sinks down into a writhing mass of eels in a water-filled sensory deprivation tank.
In other cases — such as when viewers are forced to watch a doctor drilling into Lockhart’s mouth or forcing him to swallow the omnipresent eels — the movie’s dedication to its gruesome imagery presents itself.
However, “A Cure for Wellness” shines primarily due to its visual effect rather than attempting to horrifying viewers. One of the most memorable moments in the film is a gorgeous shot of Lockhart’s train travelling through the mountains, the snowy peaks reflecting off the train’s sleek sides. The idyllic Swiss location makes for myriad eye candy throughout the movie, juxtaposed strikingly against haunting images of the center’s human experiments.
While “A Cure for Wellness” isn’t exactly a standout horror movie, it certainly has its moments. It’ll have viewers squirming and wincing in their seats when it’s at its most gruesome and sitting back in awe of its beauty in between. While the story is nothing new, the film’s high points might just make it worth the watch.