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February 18, 2017

Movie review: A Cure For Wellness

Gore Verbinski's latest epic, the 146-minute A Cure For Wellness, hit theaters yesterday, on February 17th.

My curiosity for the film began as a cardboard ad that I saw at my local movie theater while I was heading to see a Quebec film (for the record, it was called Votez Bougon, but unless you're French Canadian, you won't care), The cardboard showed a girl floating inside a small bottle. I checked the teaser and trailer, then I was definitely hooked. It looked interesting, you know? I was actually looking forward to that film. It had that vibe of a psychological thriller, mixed in with some horror, with moments that made me honestly nervous. I do think the full trailer revealed way too much, though.

Point is, I kinda knew what I was getting into. I went to see the film in the afternoon, so that I wouldn't be seeing it within a large audience. Turns out... I was alone in the theater. Sole guy in the room, watching this film. It starts, and let me tell you, I was glad I bought neither snacks nor drinks to go with my viewing.

The story revolves around Lockhart, a young executive of a large company, who is sent to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company's CEO. They need to bring him to sign papers and pin the blame on him for various errors made by the company. In other words, we're told right away that our character is a jerk, and he jumps into that adventure without heroic aspirations. He tries to find that CEO, named Pembroke, but struggles to actually find the guy. On his first visit, he meets a lot of happy elderly rich folks who seem more than glad to be spending their time in this center.

Unfruitful, Lockhart leaves, but the car he's in hits a moose on the way back to the train station, leaving him with a leg in a cast, basically forced to spend some time healing at the center. He meets the director of the establishment, a man who looks perfectly trustworthy, and he meets the youngest patient at that resort, a young girl - possibly 18 or 19 - apparently there for a mysterious illness. The patients are blissful, every treatment involves water in a way or another...

However, not everything is as it seems, as Lockhart soon discovers. The first worrisome sign is a tiny baby critter, small like a bit of dust, in the glass of water he was drinking. From there, things get worse as he experiences horrifying treatments, including one that nearly kills him - where he suddenly finds himself surrounded by eels. There are eels e-ve-ry-where in this film. Every time there's water, expect eels, whether it's regular ones or the tiny babies. The center uses its own water reservoir for all of its treatments, and it soon becomes clear that this is NOT water one should bathe in, drink, or use at all. Then there's also the mystery behind Doctor Volmer, the spa's director, who cultivates a mysterious obsession for the original owner of the castle, that owner's quest for purity and perfection, and the other elements of the mythos... And of course, there's the young girl, Hannah, in the middle of all this... A cure for wellness, huh? Oh, they'll cure your wellness alright. Visit that place and you'll never feel well again.

And even when you come out of the theater, you might also not feel well. This movie is disgusting, in so many ways. As I described it, a first reaction would be "What the Hell was that?". The second reaction is "Well, this was creepy, but not in a scary way, rather in a gross way..." Hell, I practically never screamed; I do remember going Eeeeewwwwww a lot, though. For the record, this film will be scary if you have hypochondriacal tendencies. Or if you don't like creepy-crawlies. Or if seeing half-naked or mostly-naked elderly people makes you want to scream. It is very, very gross. It'll actually kind of make you stressed about the things you drink.

What's more, the film is unfortunately rather predictable, Exposition about the past of that castle and its inhabitants is constantly hammered into the viewer, with the final revelations becoming a letdown in the end. In addition to this, it's also rather slow - don't get me wrong, a lot of slow films are considered masterpieces. 2001: A Space Odyssey would bore millenials - but this movie isn't 2001. A Cure For Wellness tries its best to not be boring, by keeping a steady rhythm that spaces moments of horror and moments of calm. It's well-paced, but it does feel slow. I am under the impression that Gore Verbinski wanted to showcase all of the bizarre treatments of the place in great detail, but a runtime of two hours and 26 minutes... yeah, that's too long.

What's more, as the story elements pile up towards the final revelations, more and more things are added that make even less sense. Some things are explained too much, while others aren't explained enough. Anything that doesn't tie directly into the main plot twist? Forgotten or unexplained. To its credit, the movie has beautiful cinematography, many shots are impressive. It also has great music, and I can say that the atmosphere in the film is actually great. It's definitely ambitious. It's unfortunately sunk down by its many, many problems. I cannot really recommend this film, although I suppose if you've got over two hours of free time, some money to waste, or you're as curious as I was, feel free to give it a watch. I personally thought it was mediocre. Not outright bad, but not really good either.

(Spoilers below)











Spoiler alert: What follows will reveal key elements of the story. I am using these elements to further the points in my critique, so read only if you are not afraid of spoilers.

Keep in mind, all of what I'm describing is in the movie. I made none of that up. Stop reading as soon as things get too sickeningly gross for you. (It shouldn't be long.)

The wellness center was built on top of a castle that belonged, 200 years earlier, to a rich Count. The man was obsessed with purity, trying to keep himself pure and father the purest child. Unfortunately, the Count also figured out that the only way to have the purest child would be through his own sister. And thus, his experimentations turned to attempts at creating a child who wouldn't be grossly deformed, as is to happen from inbreeding. He experimented on the nearby villagers, too. On the night where the Count was about to succeed and have the first  perfect baby, villagers burned his sister wife, ripped the baby out and threw it in the waters under the castle. The baby inexplicably survived.

How does this tie into the plot? A lot of the wellness treatments offered at the center are based on those experiments. I mentioned that the center exclusively uses the water reservoir located beneath it. However, it turns out that those waters are filled to the brim with eels. Yes, that's the water they drink. The eels are allowed to enter into most pools and water containers while patients are going through treatment - and they also have access to most water pipes, including the toilets. In some treatments, the eels are outright shoved into the bodies of patients through tubes, apparently to distill the life essence of a patient into the "vitamins" that everybody at the center takes, a single drop every few hours. (It's heavily implied to be concentrated human urine mixed with eel droppings.) Oh, by the way, when patients of the center die? They toss the corpses into the water reservoir, where they're eaten by the eels and the remnants spread. Yes, that's still the water that the patients drink and bathe in. Christ, this is like a watered-down (no pun intended) version of Soylent Green.

Despite wearing a cast on his leg for most of the film and moving around with crutches, Lockhart takes a long time to figure out that his leg was never broken. The treatments seem to be causing a lot of patients, including Lockhart, to lose teeth. At some point, it becomes clear that the wellness center is literally making sure to keep its patients in a constant state of "not feeling well" in order to have them stay forever, since their treatments instead appear beneficial. It's, literally, offering to cure you of your wellness. Lockhart ends up discovering too much, so they remove a tooth from his mouth, without anesthetics. And yet, sometime later, he has his two missing teeth back.

The movie becomes extremely predictable as many hints towards the revelations are very obvious: When the director of the center, Doctor Volmer, says that Hannah is like his daughter, well, guess what: she is. Also, remember Volmer's obsession with the Count who owned the castle? Guess what: He is that Count. It is never explained how these cures allowed him to survive for 200 years, and there is nearly no explanation on how this ties into the cures offered to the patients outside of "The eels can live for 300 years in our reservoir, apparently that means I was able to live for 200 years thanks to it". Even though, in the final scene, he's revealed to be basically a burnt zombie with a brain, wearing a living man's mask. It's implied the only reason he got away with it for so long is that the employees of the center are in on the secret and say nothing, while the patients are all old and don't care enough for details, as long as they're "cured", or trust him too much.

However, it is never explained how Dr. Volmer could take control of the people around him, like at one point when Lockhart is about to reveal everything to the elderly people in the dining room and they all come towards him like zombies, to capture him for Volmer. It's also never explained how Volmer managed to get the cops of the village, located just a little below the wellness center on the mountain, to drink those "vitamins" and be on the doctor's side when Lockhart goes to them for help.

It ends with the most disgusting revelations: Hannah, having discovered her feminity as the events unraveled in the film, has her first menstruations. Volmer, in his obsessions with purity born of incest, was waiting exactly for that. He marries her, he then dances with her and all of the center staff... who are apparently a cult, even though this stays unexplained. Their motivations for being part of these plans is never shown, we're never told why they play along. Are they, also, looking for a form of immortality? And they keep dancing in this great ball while Volmer is... urgh... bringing his daughter down beneath the center, where lie the remnants of his castle laboratory and bedroom, where he proceeds to try and rape her. Apparently he's still able to do that. Lockhart arrives just in time, but Volmer overpowers him and nearly has him eaten by the eels in the reservoir... well, until Hannah kills him. The fight also causes the place to catch fire, and it soon burns, with staff and patients leaving just in time.

Lockhart goes away with Hannah, on a bike. As he says in the end, he is feeling "much better now", while an evil grin forms on his face and his forehead darkens. This sudden twist ending makes no fucking sense, there is no logical explanation, it comes out of nowhere, seemingly just to have a creepy horror movie ending. Urgh, so many fucking plot holes. Did you notice how often I say "it's implied"? Yeah, that's the kind of movie it is.

Are you too grossed out by all this? Then skip this film. Hell, just skip it unless you want to see all that on the big screen. Just don't buy any food to eat while watching.