Blu-ray Review: A Cure For Wellness

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Long before A Cure For Wellness, director Gore Verbinski ascended to superstar-director status with the staggeringly successfully first three Pirates of the Caribbean films. Since that trilogy, he's hasn't directed all that much. The spooky A Cure For Wellness follows Verbinski's ill-fated The Lone Ranger (which, though problematic, was quite a bit more entertaining than given credit for). Now available on Blu-ray, Wellness is a far cry from the family-friendly, ultra-commercial fare Verbinski has trafficked in.

The genre-twister—part horror, part sci-fi, part suspense thriller—stars Dane DeHaan as rising financial exec Lockhart. There's important company business that requires input from CEO Pembroke (Harry Groener). Trouble is, Pembroke is holed up at a so-called 'wellness center,' a spa resort located in the Swiss Alps. Lockhart is sent to fetch him and winds up getting far more than he bargained for—his time at the center stretches on and on.

Unfortunately so does the movie. At 146 minutes, Verbinski takes his time unspooling what turns out to be an alarmingly thin plot. There's ambiance to spare, making Wellness never less than a sumptuous visual experience. But the story could've been comfortably condensed to fit an hour-long Twilight Zone (or something similar) episode. On top of that, the whole thing feels cobbled together from elements of other films. It almost seems to be more than coincidence that DeHaan so eerily evokes a young Leonardo DiCaprio—strong shades of Scorsese's Stutter Island are clear and present. Thematically we're dealing with paranoia as Lockhart begins to realize that the doctors at this spa are experimenting on their patients, using contaminated water to turn healthy people into sick ones.

There's plenty of Cronenberg-esque boy horror here. A self-extracted tooth immediately recalls The Fly (1986). The conformity of the spa's elderly patients, and their rejection of outsider Lockhart, brings to mind the various incarnations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There's hints throughout of everything from Alien: Resurrection to Chinatown to Face/Off. That's not to say that Wellness was directly or even consciously inspired by any of those films. It's just that the hollowness at the core of its sparse plot allows viewers' minds to wander to all the places they've seen similar stuff before.

Okay, so it's not original and its certainly not deep. That doesn't make it uninteresting. As Lockhart stumbles through Dr. Heinreich Volmer's (Jason Isaacs) phony paradise, bewildered by the notion that he's being "treated" as a patient, there's a hypnotic pull that keeps Verbinski's vision afloat despite its overall derivativeness.

A beautiful transfer of Bojan Bazelli's cinematography is complemented by an often-chilling DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix (there's a few good jump scares, plus Benjamin Wallfisch's music is quite striking), making 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray a treat. Special features are slim: a five-minute deleted scene, a few bizarre "Meditations" (sort of propaganda-like adverts for Dr. Volmer's spa), and a short piece about Wallfisch's score.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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