Gore Verbinski is hardly a novice director. He is the one who was in the director’s chair for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Mexican, and Rango. He also gave us two of the other Pirates of the Caribbean movies and The Lone Ranger, but, still, while he isn’t batting 1.000, he isn’t a novice. It would be hard to tell that from this effort, though, since aside from a few of the sets here and there, A Cure for Wellness looks to be strictly amateur hour.
The movie starts with our protagonist Lockhart, played by Dane DeHaan, as a very generic young up and comer type character at a generic company that deals with money in some way or another. Our generic protagonist has broken some rules, and is in trouble with the SEC, so when Pembroke (Harry Groener), one of the CEOs of his generic company, has announced he isn’t returning from his spa vacation in the Alps because he has seen the error of his ways and is being cured, the other CEOs tell Lockhart that he has to go bring him back. Apparently sending a salesperson with ethics issues whom has never met his intended quarry before seems like a good idea to the CEOs of generic company, perhaps explaining why they feel they need Pembroke back so badly.
When Lockhart arrives at the spa he finds it has a very sordid centuries old past involving a baron, his wife, the local townsfolk, and the castle that was on this site being burned down. He also finds that this is a retreat and treatment center for the world’s wealthiest people and that it is rare, if ever, that anyone ever leaves the treatment center. Apparently no one has noticed that a very large percentage of the world’s most wealthy and prominent people have been disappearing without a trace for the past century or more after going to the Swiss Alps. Why would anyone notice that?
As preposterous and poorly thought out as this premise and set up is, the film just keeps getting more and more ridiculous as it goes on, with characters remaining completely oblivious to the very obviously macabre and unsavory goings on at the treatment center, putting the only person who does suspect anything in exactly the places he needs to discover what he needs to (Lockhart suspects things aren’t entirely kosher here, so let’s make sure we put him in the room which has a window which directly overlooks the secret underground passage), plot devices which can work one way in one scene and in exactly the opposite in the next with no explanation as to why they would be different, and so on. There is nothing in the writing that isn’t completely amateurish from the pacing, to the plot itself, to the dialogue, and the devices. All of it is arbitrary and generic and exists purely because someone had what they apparently thought was a good idea then had no idea how to write any of it.
The acting is completely wooden, with not a single person showing any kind of emotion nor depth except for one singular and usually rather boring and cliched character trait which they stick to from beginning to end. Lockhart is an ambitious sociopath, Hannah (Mia Goth) is a naive waif, Pembroke a repentant rich guy, and so on. While the script doesn’t do the actors any favors with what they are given to work with, not a single actor does anything to even remotely rise their performance above the material and give us dull, predictable, unfocused, and sloppy performances to a person.
The camera work and visuals on display are, I suppose, meant to be unsettling, and in a way they are, but again its more because of how sloppy and vague they are rather than the fact that they hit a proper tone. The art direction makes the hospital spa look like something Victorian even though no reason is ever given that the treatment center wouldn’t need to nor want to upgrade to modern tools and machines, and there are an awful lot of unexplained empty, dark, and just plain ugly areas in this spa, especially for one which the wealthiest people in the world clamor to go to and then never want to leave.
Final recommendation: A Cure for Wellness is a generic, dull, ugly film which isn’t even brave enough to reach “so bad it’s good” territory. Don’t go see this in the theaters, and try to avoid it for the rest of your life, if possible. But if a friend does force you to watch this someday, you could get some entertainment out of making a game which involves pointing out all plot holes and inconsistencies, though if that game involves drinking make sure you won’t be driving anywhere anytime soon, and be careful you don’t contract alcohol poisoning.