The most audacious mainstream film since last year’s Batman v Superman is Gore Verbinski’s new modern nightmare, A Cure for Wellness .
It is tough believe a studio put up 40 million dollars for a film such as this. Yet, I’ve seen it, it surely exists, and I sure am happy it does.
Essentially, director Gore Verbinski, known primarily for his mega successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, was given a blank check. Looked it up and down and said “f*** it”.
While most know Verbinski for the aforementioned Pirates film, my primary attraction to him has mostly stemmed from his odder works.
The Ring, which is a rare case of a remake exceeding the original, was the only horror film in the man’s filmography. I think it speaks to Gore’s interest in the genre that he uses his blank check to return to the realm of horror.
Though this is without a doubt, another breed of horror instead of just a retread The Ring.
For starters the team is building something from the ground up. The Ring was based on a Japanese film that in turn was based on a relatively obscure book.
Now it’s undeniable that A Cure for Wellness is pulling from many facets of horror history. From Kubrick’s The Shining to Lynne’s Jacob’s Ladder to Scorsese’s Shutter Island. You are going to see a lot of inspiration from a plethora of other people’s work.
You know that classic horror theory of “less is more”? Well that is thrown out the damn window here and we take the Quentin Tarantino school of “more is more”.
I’m normally not huge on horror maximalism, which has plagued many studio horror films from the Insidious franchise to the new Blair Witch.
This film isn’t a sequel, a remake, or part of any established franchise, either, which is a horror blessing.
It is made with such intense gusto and obvious love that it’s hard for me to pick it apart the way I normally do with this sort of approach.
So what exactly makes A Cure for Wellness so good?
It’s ability and willingness to maintain open thematic structure within a rebellious 2.5 hour frame work is a good opening point.
The film is able to breathe unlike few horror films get to these days, most of which are locked to the 100 minute or less range.
The acting is tops from a cast of actors you normally see in the background.
Dane DeHaan plays his role like a young Anthony Hopkins mixed with Malcolm McDowell, as he slowly starts to lose his bananas.
Mia Goth plays the mysterious metaphor of innocence in an evil world, and she has a rare, indescribable glow that reminds me of actresses from the silent era. Last but certainly not least, Jason Isaacs plays a doctor that is a frightening combination of Don Draper and Hans Landa.
On my initial viewing a lot of it seemed to be about the morality of progress, and unexpected topic for a medium that is in a frequent state of change.
Another theory that persisted in my mind was how even good intentions can wind up being our undoing, a question that was on my mind for most of the screening.
The juxtaposition of past vs present in scientific terms against psychological terms was also an unexpected development.
We’ve come such a long way scientifically, but not so much psychologically.
The heroic amount of phallic imagery would make Fraud proud. In fact the whole thing is one gigantic Fraudian nightmare if you choose to look at it from that perspective.
So what exactly caused the film to flop?
It’s a difficult culprit to pinpoint but my money would have to be on the somewhat ambiguous/baffling marketing.
The first teaser used a creepy slowed down version of The Ramones’, I Want to Be Sedated, while basically telling us nothing about the film’s plot.
Some people, myself included, actually tend to prefer this method of trailer editing. On the other hand, I know this kind of strategy can prove off putting for a lot of people who wind up scratching their heads in confusion.
To counteract this, they released the second trailer that contained a greater semblance of plot, but also mirrored some fairly recent films, most notably Shutter Island.
Thankfully, this film is a hell of a lot better and a complete 180 in terms of sheer predictability.
It probably doesn’t help either that Gore Verbinski isn’t exactly a household name, at least not in the way a Spielberg, Nolan or Tarantino are. So he doesn’t exactly have that name recognition some mainstream audiences tend to require to offset the weird.
It truly is a shame.
We don’t get a plethora of original mid-range budget films these days and we get even less big budget horror films.
Yet in spite of it all, a studio took a chance (and a 40 million dollar budget) and reaffirmed that people could see something different.
If you enjoy bold original visions steeped in genre history and filmed with some of the most synchronized and symmetrical cinematography this side of a Wes Anderson production.
Go see A Cure for Wellness in theaters while you still can.
images via 20th Century Fox