I’m going to put this out here right at the beginning. Gore Verbinski’s 2.5 hour horror film A Cure For Wellness ends with surprise sexual assault. This isn’t just a minor off screen event, but a full on tied up to a four poster bed assault. Though sexual violence is to be expected in some horror movies, this transgression seems gratuitous and unnecessarily misogynistic in part because it is thematically extraneous. The use of explicit sexual violence here doesn’t even fit with the rest of the movie, which frequently operates in gothic masks and metaphors, and pulled me out of the movie’s spell.
As for the movie, there is a LOT of movie. In the real world, a corporation with financial irregularities is trying to conduct a merger and need a fall guy for the SEC investigations. The perfect fall guy is their old partner who went to a health retreat in Dracula’s Swiss Castle some time ago, and decided to give up on the old rat race and stay in the castle to get well. He was going to drop out anyways, why not turn him into a scapegoat and then send him on his way back into the Swiss Alps? But he needs to come back to sign papers, and he refuses to do it on his own.
Enter Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a Nicorette-chewing up and comer fueled by an intense drive to prove himself. Is he a match for the heath retreat which used to be a sanitarium run by baron before it was burned to the ground by the Rammstein-listening impoverished goths who inhabit the village below? After all, it trapped the former partner Pembroke (Harry Groener), as well as executives from Xerox and other corporations. Maybe it has something to do with the drinking water? The advertising says that the retreat is sitting on top of a fountain of youth. Or, maybe it has to do with the Volmer (Jason Isaacs), the sexy daddy who runs the facility who has evil behind his striking blue eyes. And what about the young frail pale girl (Mia Goth) who walks along the tops of the castle walls?
If the bloated 144 minute running time isn’t an indicator, Verbinski is ready to throw everything and the toilet tank at the audience. What scares you? Is it sexy authority figures? How about jiggling toilet tank handles? Eels? I bet you’re afraid of eels. Are you sure you’re not afraid of eels? We have a lot of eels? Oh, no eels? What about crossword puzzles? Those are scary, right? I’ll bet you’re afraid of dentistry.
There’s so much movie that Verbinski never quite figures out his theme. Is it a pessimistic treatise about the corruption of money? Is it about how we’re all dead inside and afraid of opening up? Eels, in dream metaphor, represent a balanced male energy that is open to emotional experience. Losing teeth is about losing somebody or something. Toilets that are jiggling or struggling to flush means a resistance to clearing out our wasteful energies. Drowning is the metaphor for drowning. Etc etc. So, is it the sanitarium that’s sick or is it Lockhart? Is this a metaphor for how money and capitalism is actually toxic? Or, is it about how socialism is poisoning us all? Maybe its both and its just the western world.
Though admittedly gorgeous, A Cure For Wellness is about 40 minutes and 5 endings too long. Not that there are any real twists along the way. Verbinski drops clues about the origins of the gothic mystery like so many dog turds along the sidewalk; if you didn’t notice them, you’ve already stepped in them. Most audiences will have figured out the story long before the movie does. And as you’re waiting for A Cure For Wellness to plod along to its inevitable conclusion…bam, gratuitous sexual assault.
Great. Thanks Gore Verbinski.