In theaters this Thursday, ‘A Cure For Wellness’ is an effective thriller anchored by a tremendous performance from Jason Issacs and a setting that steals the show.
The film centers around a young man named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan). Lockhart is a cutthroat investment banker who is a little unhinged and will do anything (legal or not) to get the top. He’s sent to Switzerland to bring back a senior partner who has apparently lost it and is refusing to leave the luxurious spa he’s at. We quickly find out that there is much more to this spa than anyone had realized. It appears that wealthy folks from around the globe pay top dollar to take in the spa’s purified water, which they allege have Fountain of Youth qualities.
The “spa” is run by Dr. Volmer (Jason Issacs), and he has a commanding presence anytime he enters the room. It’s as if everyone who works at the retreat is in some haze and he’s the only clear headed individual in the building. At first, when Lockhart arrives, it seems that Dr. Volmer is more than happy to honor his request of taking his colleague back to New York. Then through a series of what appear to be unexplainable events, Lockhart goes from seeking one of the spa’s patients to becoming one himself.
What I Didn’t Like
There was too much time devoted to Lockhart’s background in finance, not a particularly compelling detail and it detracted from the most interesting elements of the film. Had ‘A Cure For Wellness’ began with Lockhart already in Switzerland approaching the “Spa” it could have trimmed some of the fat considerably.
Verbinski should have shifted the focus slightly towards Dr. Volmer in the movie and less on Lockhart. I’ve felt that in a thriller, the audience should feel some empathy towards the lead actor and truthfully Lockhart is just a weasel who is trying to do the right thing by helping his colleague, but he’s in over his head (he’s one dimensional). In the absence of having a character that audiences would gravitate towards, they should have turned their attention towards developing the most interesting character in the narrative, Dr. Volmer.
What I did Like
Jason Issacs was tremendous in the role of Dr. Volmer. He oozed creepiness anytime the audience saw him on screen. Even though at first he tries to come off as genuine, everyone realizes early on that there’s more to his retreat than it appears to be. The power in his performance stemmed from how he delivered his lines. There was a soothing tone that he took throughout which lulled both the audience and patients into a haze of acceptance (even if it meant being okay with the good doctor strapping on a dental vice to Lockhart’s mouth and watching him knock out a few teeth).
The location that they choose to shoot this film was wonderful. This “Spa” had all the look and feel of a sanitarium ripped out the worst kind of nightmares mixed with a smidge of Dracula’s castle. Verbinski utilized the dark shadows of the lower levels to heighten the tension. The lack of an easy exit from the venue gave the feeling of being trapped. Production Designer Eve Stewart was able to transform Dr. Volmer’s “Spa” into the most important element in this film.
‘A Cure For Wellness’ is far from a perfect movie. It could have easily been 30 minutes leaner, and the focus should have been much more on the character of Dr. Volmer and much less on the forgettable Lockhart. But the entire visual composition is stellar. It’s an effective thriller that’s buoyed by an excellent performance from Jason Issacs and tremendous production design. Is it worth paying to see it? If you are a fan of the genre, then go for it, but if you are just giving this film a shot then wait for it to find its way to your television.