When he’s caught trying to scam his own employers out of a few million dollars, Wall Street hotshot Lockhart is given a make-or-break assignment to get his greedy ass off the hook. His elderly CEO has gone AWOL to a secretive ‘wellness’ clinic in the Swiss Alps, seemingly out of his mind, right at the time his signature is needed on a merger deal that will save the ailing company from financial oblivion. With the clock ticking down, Lockhart is dispatched to the beautiful mountaintop spa to retrieve the old buffer, only to find that the watery ‘cure’ on sale there is slowly killing all of the residents. You guessed it: check-out is not an option.
Gore Verbinski showed he could deliver superior scares with his 2002 Ringu remake and does so again with this very classy horror thriller. It may not have an original fishbone in its body but that’s half the fun - the soufflé of fruitcake paranoia Verbinski cooks up deftly draws upon a range of sources. Viewers of The Prisoner will recognise the Shangri-La world of the clinic, with its zombiefied elderly residents, Kafkaesque underground labyrinth of bizarre treatment rooms and the tormented progression of Dane Dehaan’s neutered Wolf of Wall Street as he increasingly rages against his captors, culminating in a very McGoohan-esque scream of “I am not a patient!” that’ll have you ducking an imaginary weather balloon. There’s also a heady whiff of Jacob’s Ladder, underrated 60s psycho-chiller Eye of the Devil and – in the spectacular Viennese Waltz climax - Eyes Wide Shut, which seems to have defied its original critical mauling to become one of Kubrick’s most influential works. And fans of extreme tooth torture (that’s us) rejoice, the reprise of Marathon Man’s dental assault sequence is an absolute shocker and well worth seeing with a Friday night crowd. That’s a whole lot of homage even before the full-tilt anarchy of a last act that’s pure Roger Corman in Edgar Allan Poe mode. But, like Brian DePalma before him, Verbinski pulls off this remixing with plenty in reserve and keeps all his plates spinning to the manic conclusion.
Delivering on the promise he first showed in Chronicle (and that was utterly wasted in The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Dane DeHann’s Lockhart has our sympathy from the off. In support, the very aptly-named Mia Goth is winsomely effective as the mysterious, ageless girl he encounters on his way down the rabbit hole. But Jason Isaacs steals the show as head clinician Dr. Heinreich Volmer, oozing the kind of fiendish charisma that would make for an excellent Bond villain. Through no fault of his own, Isaacs has long been associated with a tooth-looseningly irksome meme perpetrated by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s Radio 5 film review show, which encourages its simpering acolytes to jump up and down and shout at Isaacs whenever they spot the poor bloke in public. Perhaps the dark relish Isaacs displays as he ties a screaming DeHaan down, forces a giant rubber hose down his throat and releases a humongous vat of eels and dirty water into his belly is founded on a wish to do the same to the imbecilic morons that regularly shout “Hello to Jason Isaacs!” at him in airport toilets and his local supermarket. But it’s probably just really good acting.
With a very odd title for a big budget horror (let’s be honest – it’s a total duffer), no major star names and no franchise potential to speak of, A Cure for Wellness was never going to set the box office on fire. The running time doesn’t do it any favours either; at two and a half hours and with at least one false-ending too-many, it does rather outstay its welcome by a good 30 minutes. Most of that extra running time is spent either following DeHaan as he explores the (admittedly stunning) interiors of the clinic or watching him on the receiving end of yet another unpleasant treatment so you have to wonder why it wasn’t trimmed down a bit. But you also have to admire Verbinski’s audacity for pulling off such a sprawling and decidedly un-Hollywood slice of strangeness in this day and age. Heck, the time may even have come to forgive him for Pirates of the Caribbean. But let’s not get too carried away.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GORE VERBINSKI / SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN HAYTHE / STARRING: DANE DEHAAN, JASON ISAACS, MIA GOTH / RELEASE DATE: 24TH FEBRUARY
Expected Rating: 7