Gore Verbinski is a director with a connoisseur’s taste for batshit. His is a special kind of insanity which tricks you into mistaking it for high budget blockbuster material when, in reality, it’s mere madness. I mean that in the best possible way. I can’t have anything but respect for the guy who took a ten-minute ride at Disney Land and turned it into trilogy of films about undead pirates, sea monsters, and Johnny Depp doing his best bad Keith Richards impersonation that was so successful that the studio keeps making them long after he’s left series. That’s fucking crazy, and I love it.
Somehow, Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t even his most insane work. His debut film was Nathan Lane and Lee Evans being repeatedly foiled by a mouse, which he followed up with a film about Brad Pitt trying to smuggle a cursed gun into Mexico, which he then rounded out with an adaptation of a Japanese horror film that was so scary that the entirety of American horror was sent into a spiraling disarray that is only just now, 15 years later, starting to level out.
These are important things to consider before watching A Cure for Wellness. Verbinski has never been heavy in the give-a-fuck department, especially as it concerns to audience expectations. Or desires. Or, really, audiences period. Verbinski makes films for an audience of one: Verbinski. The rest of us are more than welcome to hop aboard or piss right off. With A Cure for Wellness, the hopping aboard is almost a dare; he’d rather you piss right off. Really, whatever choice you make is probably the correct one.
Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) plays Lockhart, an up and coming broker a large New York firm who’s caught cooking books by the board of directors. Rather than turn him in for fraud, the board uses knowledge of his deceit to bend him to their will which, in this case, means sending him to a luxury spa in the alps to retrieve their missing CEO, whom they need to complete a merger that will make them all rich, who’s unfortunately lost his mind. Once there, Lockhart engages in a power struggle with mysterious Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs, the Harry Potter series) and finds himself involved in a spiraling series of events that has him questioning both his physical and mental health.
Bizarre barely begins to cover the weirdness that’s found within. The film quickly descends into a free fall of sheer insanity, spinning wildly out of control in the best possible of ways. Except that’s not really true. Sure, it looks a lot like a train wreck derailing slowly over a period of two-and-a-half hours—I certainly wouldn’t blame you for thinking that’s what you’re watching—but this is a controlled demolition, carefully guided by Verbinski’s IDGAF approach to film and filmmaking.
Here, the approach takes us on a ride that feels all at once intensely familiar and entirely different. The trappings of gothic melodrama are all there—a castle on a distant hill, a mad scientist, a sprawling mystery—but never have they been present in a manner such as this. This is a kaleidoscopic take on the form that serves as a capitalist critique, a psychobabble satire, and an absurd horror story—involving curative water and goddamn eels—all in one.
Verbinski uses this all to his advantage, drawing the viewer in while, at the same time, pushing them away. The sheer absurdity of the situation and plot are balanced out by the director’s incomparable vision, which unfolds with often heart stopping beauty. DeHaan somehow manages to walk to the tight rope strung up by his director with nary a stumble along the way. The actor reflects the rising tide of insanity around him perfectly, deftly dragging the willing deeper into the shared delusion of actor and director that’s whole unique and never uninteresting
At times, it plays out like the fevered wet dreams of absolute lunatic, and for those willing to hop aboard, the ride is kind of amazing. Full of absurd set pieces and imagery, Verbinski’s vision is one that’s hard to get behind, but rewarding for those willing to take a chance. Here, the centuries meld into a timeless void of creeping dread until up becomes down and sanity is a mental illness. It’s fucking crazy, and I love it. That doesn’t mean you will. That doesn’t even mean you should. In fact, I’m probably the madman here. If one in one hundred watchers sees the magic of this film, that’s probably higher than even Verbinski anticipated. For those precious few, A Cure for Wellness is a wild trip into the world of peak Verbinski, which would probably be an awful world to be if weren’t so goddamn fun. Just remember to not drink the water.
A Cure for Wellness is now playing in theaters everywhere.