Gore Verbinski’s new film A Cure for Wellness returns the gothic genre to its roots in melodrama. A grand tale of love and death set in a creepy old castle, it’s primed with the irrational, the repressed, the uncanny and the supernatural. It’s fair to say that Verbinski and co-writer Justin Haythe really have pushed the gothic boat out. It’s something of a Rorschach Test horror film, too. A compendium of eras and styles so dizzying, you’re bound to see in it whatever influences you choose. It’s Suspiria at the spa. It’s Kubrick in Shining mode doing The Road to Wellville.
Yet such influences hang back in the shadows like a skulking ghost, rather than appear as a postmodernist barrage of nods and winks. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, who plays the part as if he’s the kid brother of Shutter Island’s Teddy Daniels) is a financial executive dispatched to a fancy pants Swiss resort, a former castle with a gruesome history, run by Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs). The brief: retrieve his boss, an absent CEO. The guy has decided to go AWOL during a takeover that’s going to make them all rich. Well, even richer. Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), the CEO, mailed a perturbing letter to the board, informing them he’s to remain at the health clinic indefinitely.
Alarmed by this unexpected turn of events, they shanghai a compromised underling caught with his fingers in the cookie jar (he’s guilty of ‘creative accounting’) into taking the trip. When he gets there, the place is filled with old tycoons and wealthy types professing they’ve never felt better in their lives, all while looking more than a little peaky. It’s a long film at two hours and 26 minutes. The plot takes its time, is episodic and novel-like in structure. Yet there’s never a dull moment and the story is always deepening Lockhart’s paranoia, as well as the investigation into the health centre’s experimental techniques and sinister side. Verbinski doesn’t skimp on thrills, mind you. There are jump scares galore, acts of literally penetrating violence and the denouement goes for full-on operatic perversity. Fans of Gothic horror – treat yourself and take the cure.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn