For all its aesthetic appeal, this film left much to be desired in pretty much every other category. I really wanted to like this movie, but by the end it left me feeling very meh. The trailer was great (I’ve included it below) so I should have trusted my own rule and known the movie was going to disappoint. Although my expectations weren’t met, it’s far from a complete failure.
Visually the movie is stunning. However, it leans heavily on that crutch much like the main character for much of the film in an odd bit of symmetry. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is remarkably gorgeous to behold. He utilized the locations brilliantly and shaped the environment into a character of its own. The exteriors are wonderfully picturesque even if some of the backgrounds were digitally altered and Bazelli’s interior shots are marvelously Gothic and baroque. Additionally, the character closeups were particularly well framed breathing a new life into otherwise dull, traditional shots. While he deserves credit for his work, Hohenzollern Castle is undeniably the star of the show. The location management team and scout Bashaar Wahab found a real gem nestled in the German mountains. It was used in the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, but here it was given the time and platform to truly shine.
Benjamin Wallfisch’s original score married nicely with the visual elements of the film, providing an added layer of unsettling creepiness. Art director Grant Armstrong, set decorator Mark Rosinski and the entire art department had a significant impact on the mood. Attention to detail goes a long way and the subtleties of building a harmonious environment. The set designers and prop masters built some unique and eerie pieces to complement the ominous setting and breathed new life into an old castle.
Director Gore Verbinski also wrote the screenplay alongside Justin Haythe after teaming up previously on the much maligned Lone Ranger (2013). Verbinski has a knack for visual storytelling as evidenced by his take on The Ring (2002) and his subsequent entries in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, that’s really all A Cure for Wellness has going for it. The basic premise is severely lacking in believability, which could have worked had the endgame been rewarding. The result is more amalgam and homage, lost in a haze of genre blending. Notably reminiscent of a litany of hospital horror B-movies, like the Infection (2004), Autopsy (2008) combined with Shutter Island (2010) and sprinkled with Phantom of the Opera.
Dane Dehaan has come a long way since his breakout role in Chronicle back in 2012, becoming a highly sought after young talent. I was excited to see him get a starring role to himself, but he just wasn’t compelling. Much of that is due to how his character Lockhart was written and the story he was given, resulting in a lead which the audience isn’t really cheering for. The trailer led me to believe he is looking for his father at a mysterious and eccentric hospital, which has a built in narrative if only through family. While Lockhart does have issues regarding his own father, the arc is shallow and doesn’t result in any benefit to the character or the audience. Instead, Dehaan plays a young executive looking to climb the corporate ladder and is tasked by his superiors with retrieving the senior most board member before a large merger. It simply misses the mark when it comes to relatability, leaving Dehaan with only his basic heroic function. He is the one at the center of unraveling the mysteries of the sanitarium, but sadly that’s pretty much it. *Update: I have to mention there is something acutely unsettling about the way he drinks water (hopefully just in this movie and not everyday life). His lips greedily engulf the edge of the glass, as if he’s about to tongue the inside for every final drop. My apologies to Dehaan, but it stood out.
Mia Goth was a bright spot (I had seen her in the 2015 Indie film The Survivalist but it was definitely off the radar). She plays Hannah, the youngest resident and a central figure in the mystery surrounding the sanitarium. Playing an adolescent teen as a woman in her mid-20s can be a bit challenging but she is unassuming and conveys the innocence needed to pull it off. She is flanked by Jason Isaacs, probably most well known as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise. He plays Volmer, the head doctor at the sanitarium and the man with all the secrets. He has a menacing charm and is by far the most enjoyable to watch on camera. The cast is rather extensive but lacks any depth outside the three actors at the heart of the story. A mental hospital should be loaded with interesting characters, but due to the story’s restrictions, another several opportunities were missed in that department.
Besides the things I’ve already mentioned, the movie is far too long with a two-and-a-half hour run time. I don’t hold run time against a film just because, but in this case it’s warranted. Too much screen time is spent showcasing the environment and kind of forgetting to get to the point. Once the film finally does reach its climax and the mystery is unveiled, it comes across as very formulaic and theatrical. Maybe it’s just me, but the ending wasn’t a surprise and my guess from act one held serve until the final bell. There are cases where the ending is obvious but the journey is enjoyable (Titanic). However, with a mystery/thriller the meat should be the discovery portion at the end and in this case it wasn’t.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of visual storytelling, you’ll enjoy this movie. Even if you’re not, the aesthetics are appealing enough to warrant watching it because the production quality is top notch across the board. If you are looking for dynamic and compelling acting performances, you won’t find it here. It’s probably worth checking out as the story may work for others although it didn’t for do much me.