Monday 27 February 2017

A Cure For Wellness

At The Mountains Of Wellness

A Cure For Wellness
Germany/USA 2017
Directed by Gore Verbinski
UK cinema release print.

I’m not the greatest fan of Gore Verbinski as a director, it has to be said, although I did like his very first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, at least. I would never had bothered with this one if I’d only heard the title, A Cure For Wellness, which isn’t the most inspiring title in the world. However, I was lucky enough to catch a trailer for this a few weeks ago and what I saw appealed to me very much... looking on the surface like something H. P. Lovecraft might have dreamed up if he were alive today and writing screenplays. As it happens, although this film isn’t without its little problems, I was pleasantly surprised by this B-movie horror yarn built with A-list production values.

After a brilliantly designed and shot, low key “big city America” skyline opening credits sequence, taken at a much slower and meticulous pace than we are used to seeing this kind of thing and significantly rendering it one of the greatest architectural opening montages in recent cinematic memory... we have a short prologue to the movie and shortly after we meet the newly promoted, totally unsympathetic protagonist Lockhart. He is blackmailed/tasked by the board of his new company to bring back a former employee who has gone to a clinic in Switzerland for their ‘hydro treatment’ and not returned. Lockhart is played by an up and coming actor who I have a lot of time for called Dane DeHaan. I’ve only seen him in two other movies, the brilliant Chronicle (reviewed by me here) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reviewed here), where he played a sort of good person turned evil in both films. I’m actually worried he’s going to get type cast playing unsympathetic characters if he carries on like this but, you know, he does it so well. And he does it again here in a less black and white way, as his character is definitely the ‘hero’ of the piece but, simultaneously, not someone you would really want to give the time of day to, in all honesty.

The rest of the movie, after the first ten minutes or so, takes place at the castle sanatarium in the mountains of Switzerland and the neighbouring village... both, curiously, shot in different locations in Germany. The film details a story arc pitching him up against the head of the sanatarium, Doctor Volmer (played by Jason Isaacs) while befriending a mysterious girl there, Hannah (who is played by an amazing actress called Mia Goth). He also encounters a puzzle loving lady who is joyfully played by Celia Imrie in exactly the kind of role I wouldn’t expect to see her in. She is absolutely excellent in this too... as are pretty much all of the cast.

The film details a complicated, in its untangling, mystery about the fall out of something which happened at the previous version of the castle three hundred years ago. My overall impression of this, even after it was explained to me, was that it was a little impenetrable in terms of its convolutedness. At the same time, though, it gives the piece a nicely ambiguous feel and my title to this review really fits here, I think, as it’s ultimately a very Lovecraftian affair and has more of the atmosphere of one of his tales than many ‘straight’, actual adaptations of the writer’s work over the years.

Now there are a few problems with the movie, as I see it, and I’ll detail those now.

One is the continuity in some places. Since the film focuses, for good reasons, on people drinking various fluids, there are a lot of shots of half filled glasses and, I have to say, a lot of the cuts between long shots and close ups did have some discrepancies in the level of the top of the fluid in proportion to empty glass, it seemed to me. There are also some discrepancies, I felt, in the timing of sequential scenes and moods of characters in some sequences where the film almost looked like it was heading for a completely different kind of denouement. In some scenes, to me at least, felt like they were completely contradicting each other in tone and character progression and there was, I felt, at least one crucial 'escape' sequence missing. I am wondering if there were two versions of the script as the shoot went on and stuff was shot for both, with the director maybe not wanting to lose certain scenes. So things may have been kept in which screw up the linear flow of the movie, maybe? I’m guessing here but it would make sense to me if that were the case. It would also maybe explain why I was left a little unsure about certain elements of the mystery as it played out. The ending did feel kind of ‘tacked on’ too, to be sure.

One other thing I might say is that, at almost two and a half hours, the film seemed very much overlong in its execution. An hour could have been chopped out of this and it might have played as a much more satisfying and succinct piece. That being said, though, it does have it’s own, European pacing and I’m also quite a fan of this kind of slow burn kind of affair, which didn’t drag at all throughout the course of its length. So, not too worried about this and perhaps one of the reasons it all held together so well was because it has a very nicely put together score by composer Benjamin Wallfisch, which is quite striking and appropriate for the film. Indeed, one of the first things I did when I got home was to pre-order the CD soundtrack and congratulations to the label for actually putting it out in a proper format... so many movies these days are coming out as download only which is a truly horrifying treatment of music.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about A Cure For Wellness. It’s a great little horror movie with an ambiguous, lurking horror filled with some nicely grotesque set pieces involving eels and dentistry which might test the resilience of some audience members but it all makes for an unusual experience at the movies and I would definitely recommend it to certain types of horror film fans who are okay with a slowly developing story arc. The cinematography is beautiful and the shot design meticulous. It’s a little muddled, perhaps, in its editing but more in what was kept in the movie, I think, than in anything jarring on any other level asides from content. I don’t think it will play at cinemas for very long so maybe it’s one to catch sooner rater than later, if you’ve a hankering to see this one. A flawed but intriguing movie which I will probably take another look at some day. If I don’t, there may be eel to pay.

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