When searching for one word to describe the aesthetic of A Cure for Wellness, “gothic” actually seems to fit the best. That was not what I expected going into a film billed as a sci-fi horror/thriller. But the unusual aesthetic choices framed a juicy mystery which left me wanting to watch it again.
The film is set, as are so many classic gothic tales, in a castle which was once burned down by an angry mob, and is rumored to be cursed. Within is the ambiguously scientific Wellness Center, where wealthy CEOs and third cousins of royalty come to escape the pressures of the modern world. It’s the Stepford estate of spa experiences, and from the first glimpse of the castle we know that something is just not right.
“We are not well,” the patients insist when asked why they stay, even though they appear to be in the best health money can buy. Lockheart, a young Wall Street broker (Dane DeHaan), crashes the serenity of the center to retrieve the chairman of the board for the tottering firm they both work for. Less than a day later after a freak accident, Lockheart is in a cast and unable to leave. He is also, conveniently, unable to use his phone or otherwise contact anyone at his firm. Enter Mia Goth as Hannah. She is the only other young person at the retreat but seems to have grown up there. She insists like the rest that she is not well, but that once her treatment is finished, her father will come for her. DeHaan and Goth are obviously children playing in a grown-up game, and their performances embody the raw and escalating desperation of adolescence repressed.
The movie gets weirder from there, shying away from the asylum/scary nurse trope and instead leaning into the mold of a postmodern Bram Stoker novel. It’s incredibly creepy. The cinematic style interjects moments of eerie poetry into the otherwise traditional and linear story line. While these moments are beautiful, they do give the impression that the directing team (headed by Gore Verbinski) was more in love with the visual story than the verbal story. This impression is further reinforced by the few key plot threads that are left hanging by the end of the movie, though it may also be a case of the creative team wanting the audience to fill in the holes in our own minds.
I walked away from A Cure for Wellness thrilled and excited, but the more I thought over the story, the more it left me wanting to know more – which I suppose is sometimes the point of a good thriller. The film deserves unequivocal props for its clear and insightful moments of commentary on our cultural obsession with work and wellness, and our inability to balance the two.
About Our Rating System:
The Loresworn Order reviews games, movies, TV, books, and music on a four-point scale.
No Medal, “Not Recommended”