This post contains mild plot point spoilers but honestly you shouldn’t waste your time seeing the movie anyway. Just read my post and you’ll be all set.
A Cure For Wellness is one of the biggest letdowns in some time. Similar to Crimson Peak a few years ago, it had a beautifully haunting trailer that drew me in and made me want to see a “scary movie,” a genre I tend to avoid. I’m a scaredy cat who will have nightmares for days after a mildly scary episode of TV. So, mustering up the courage to see a scary movie is a big deal. And then, I see something like A Cure For Wellness and I just sit there bored out of my mind trying to envision a better version of the movie than the one on screen.
Wellness is a master class in how not to pace a film. The beginning drags but I figured it was a lot of build up to a exciting second half. The excitement never came. At 2.5 hours I’m not sure what the director felt was so precious to keep. It’s as if the storyboards were written on cards that fell on the ground and however they were shuffled back together was the order they edited the film. With so many resets to the action, it was difficult to ever get into a groove.
I’ll give you the one sentence description of the plot. A young man, Lockhart, goes to a sanitarium in Switzerland to bring back the CEO of his Wall Street firm only to find something is not right in the seemingly idyllic spa. The problem is he figures that out almost immediately but not quite as fast as the audience. I heard multiple people whisper to their movie-going companion, “Don’t drink the water,” the very first instant the water was shown. Everything is so on the nose as to not leave anything for the audience to discover.
Let’s get back to the pacing. One of the keys to a scary film, especially when the main character has a broken leg*, is the sense that there is no where for them to go and no way for them to run. Think Misery or literally any other suspenseful film with an injured protagonist. So, what does A Cure For Wellness do with this plot point? They continuously let Lockhart leave. He goes into town multiple times and even calls work. Yet, he goes back and keeps drinking the Kool-Aid even though he knows it’s bad for him. The film gives the main character too much distance from the rest of the brainwashed patients at the sanitarium though. Since he never buys in to the lies the staff is telling, we never buy in. And if we never buy in, it makes the whole thing seem ridiculous.
For a film that takes no chances and has no real sense of tension or terror, it seems to have no problem leaning gratuitously on sexual violence toward the end. A rape scene completely changes the tone of the film and one specifically unnecessary moment had the audience make its first collective sound of the movie, a big grossed-out groan. The fact that the love interest is a pre-pubescent girl and the main town secret revolves around incest should give you a sense of what the film relished in, as opposed to finding real terror in the experiments performed on the guests (patients).
* Bad storytelling is when a plot device is thrown away the second it will make the rest of the story harder to tell. As soon as the film needed Lockhart to be able to run and fight, they let him remove his cast and magically walk on his broken leg. Now, given that the caretakers are all crazy perhaps it wasn’t broken in the first place. But, the director made us listen to the sound of Lockhart walking on his crutches for almost two hours (many times the only sound in the scene) so just for that reason he should have been held to using them for the rest of the film.
I won’t get started with the eels, or the face masks, or the eels, or the dead babies in jars, or the use of dentist as torturer, or the eels. All I’ll say is, never sign your name on a form that’s in a foreign language you can’t read. Also, if Stranger Things taught us anything, don’t mess with sensory deprivation chambers.
If you want to be scared by something associated with A Cure For Wellness read about the real-life history of the location used during filming. That will raise the hair on your arms. The movie will just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.