“For only when we know what ails us, can we hope to find the cure.”
From the director of The Ring comes this psychological thriller and “fantastically creepy experience” (Kyle Smith, New York Post) about an ambitious young executive sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from a remote and mysterious “wellness center.” When he begins to unravel the retreat’s terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, and he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests there longing or the cure.
Featuring hauntingly mesmerizing performances from Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter films) and Mia Goth (Everest), the Blu-ray and DVD includes a deleted sequence, a behind-the-scenes look at the scoring of the film and individual meditations from the wellness center. – 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
A Cure for Wellness has got to be destined for cult status. It’s a unique story that certainly has a weird ending. Oh, and it has lots of eels.
Before we get too far into this review, I should say that I liked this movie. I really liked this movie. On that same note though, I completely understand why most people didn’t. In fact, I have yet to talk to anyone else who liked this movie. A Cure for Wellness was a bit of a box-office bomb to say the least, and I suspect a lot of its lack of success was due to its length, poor word-of-mouth reviews, and confusing ending. But we’ll get into all that and more, as well as why I think you need to watch this movie more than once.
Working immediately against this movie is its incredibly long running time of two hours and 26 minutes. That’s a long time for an original story. Let’s be honest – these days, most people aren’t looking to invest this much time into a movie unless it’s a superhero film or a blockbuster sequel. However, that time isn’t wasted in this movie, and each scene feels relevant to either the core plot or the development of its three central characters. Director Gore Verbinski would have struggled in trying to find scenes that could have been easily removed.
The movie opens with a man working alone in his high-tech corporate office late at night. He dies after having a heart-attack, and we are introduced to his successor, a young man named Lockhart (DeHaan). Just like his superiors, Lockhart is selfish, greedy, busy, and ambitious. He is the movie’s protagonist purely by his circumstances and not any immediately apparent redeeming character qualities. DeHaan, however, gives a great performance throughout the movie and manages to keep many scenes from seeming too weird or unbelievable.
Lockhart’s superiors instruct him to read a letter from the company’s CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), in which the man describes society’s illness and need for a cure. The board members believe Pembroke to be insane and plan to pin a shady business merger on him, should the SEC ask questions. Lockhart, who has also made some sketchy business decisions, is sent to retrieve the CEO from a “wellness center” spa in Switzerland.
Again, this movie doesn’t waste time. It only takes ten minutes to introduce Lockhart, establish his motives, introduce his troubled relationship with his parents, and explain his reasons for going to the spa. Several of these scenes aren’t played out chronologically, which can make them seem a bit confusing and jumpy at first. Once you realize that half of these scenes are flashbacks, they make a lot more sense.
The scene in which Lockhart is driven to the spa is really where the Blu-ray drastically starts to outshine the DVD version. A real castle in Germany was used for the spa, and the structure and surrounding mountainous landscapes are absolutely gorgeous. Verbinski makes use of wide, sweeping shots here that are all eye-catching, and the movie’s soundtrack seems to match these shots perfectly.
And the beautiful shots don’t stop when the car ride does. The spa/castle walls separate life at the retreat from the everyday, “real” life. Whereas shots in the corporate world feature artificial office lights and many blues and grays, the spa is full of vivid greens and bright whites bathed in natural light. Lockhart sees people leisurely walking, exercising in the front yard, and playing cards. People are kind and smiling and genuinely seem to be enjoying life. As the name of the deleted sequence says, “It’s wonderful here.”
After arriving at the spa, Lockhart is refused an audience with Pembroke. He decides to return later, but breaks his leg after his car hits a deer and crashes. (Fair warning – don’t get attached to any deer in this movie.) He wakes up in the spa as a patient of Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Isaacs). Lockhart is forced to stay temporarily and makes friends with some of the patients, including puzzle-solving Mrs. Watkins (Celia Imrie) and Hannah (Goth), the only other younger patient at the spa.
Lockhart quickly notices that something is amiss at the spa. Patients and staff take unidentified vitamins from tiny, cobalt blue vials. Lockhart begins seeing strange things, including a deer in the sauna and many, many eels (a side-effect, he is told, of his cure), and a mysterious old story about the spa’s two-hundred-year history seems to follow him wherever he goes. It may be “wonderful here,” but Lockhart isn’t convinced.
Throughout the second act, as he tries to solve the mysteries behind the spa, Lockhart becomes much more likeable as a protagonist. He begins to develop some character and starts to take interest in people other than himself. One of his biggest moments of emotional growth was unfortunately cut from the movie, but can be found in the deleted sequence included in the special features.
The story isn’t perfect. Developments in the plot often happen at very convenient times. For example, each person Lockhart talks to seems to just know the one piece of the mystery that leads him to the next clue. No more and no less. For the most part, however, it’s captivating and intriguing. Viewers can’t help but to devise their own theories about the truth behind the spa. The movie feeds you a few red herrings along the way to keep the ending from being too obvious.
Then we get into that third act, and this is where things really get . . . interesting. Without spoiling anything, the third act is where, I suspect, many viewers become disappointed or frustrated with the movie. Prospective viewers should know that the movie is unabashed in its use of gore and nudity, especially here in its final act.
Surprisingly, the resolution to the mystery is a bit rushed. For such a long setup, the final payoff almost feels too quick. That resolution, as abrupt as it feels, is also a bit shocking and confusing. While some of the twists may seem predictable, it’s doubtful that many viewers knew exactly how the ending would unfold. It looks like the movie has introduced several plot points that ended up going nowhere, and the climactic ending feels like it’s from a movie completely different from the beginning.
At least, that’s the impression you get at first.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone thinking about watching this movie or who has already seen it and didn’t like the ending is to watch it twice. I know – it’s really long. Also, if you didn’t like it once, you doubt you’ll like it the second time. Valid arguments, but that second viewing is crucial. In it, you immediately see things you either forgot along the way or dismissed as being unimportant. Red herrings are easy to quickly dismiss, which allows you to zone in on what’s most important. The plot becomes so much clearer, and the mystery makes a lot more sense (still not perfect, but a lot better than it was). Seriously, please consider watching this twice, not only to better understand the answers to the mystery, but to get a much greater appreciation for the entire movie as a whole.
If you’re given the choice between Blu-ray and DVD for this movie, Blu-ray is the way to go. While both feature beautiful shots and gorgeous sets, every shot is just a bit sharper and more vivid in the 1080p (1.78:1) Blu-ray version. The colors in each scene look fantastic. This is one of the best transfers to Blu-ray I’ve ever scene. The only weakness in the transfer is the that the quality of a CGI deer looks a little less realistic, but given that deer’s fate, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the animal lovers in the audience. Still, watch the Blu-ray – absolutely beautiful!
The Blu-ray features an English 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. A Cure for Wellness doesn’t sound like a typical horror film. Audio isn’t used to startle viewers in cheap jump scares. The spa is actually rather quiet in most scenes, leading viewers into a false sense of peace. For the most part, dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The original soundtrack works quite well, and both Hannah and Volmer have their own theme songs that evolve throughout the movie. Be sure to check out the special features for more on the movie’s score.
- Deleted Sequence: “It’s Wonderful Here” (4:49) – This sequence is short, but packed with content that shows emotional growth for Lockhart’s character and addresses some of the movie’s most confusing and “out-there” plot points. With a run time of almost two and a half hours already, leaving these extra five minutes in would hardly have affected the movie’s length.
- Meditations – These unique clips, which fit perfectly with the rest of the movie, ask viewers to relax . . . close their eyes . . . and breath in . . . and out . . .
- The Score (4:08) – This in-depth clip features the movie’s orchestra and discusses how “Hannah’s Theme” and “Volmer’s Theme” both evolve as the mystery unfolds.
– Water is the Cure (2:58)
– Air is the Cure (2:44)
– Earth is the Cure (2:43)
– Theatrical trailer (1:55)
– Red Band trailer (2:26)
– International trailer (0:59)
A Cure for Wellness is not for everyone. It’s long, complicated, and often confusing. That being said, it’s still a movie worth seeing, if only for the strong performances (especially DeHaan) and beautiful camera shots. The Blu-ray is easily the best version, and the special features included with it are rather unique and interesting. A Cure for Wellness should be watched at least twice, in my opinion, but even if you just watch it once, you’ll get the chance to see a beautifully-shot movie and a unique plot. You can also tell your friends that you watched that one movie with all the eels.