A Cure for Wellness is just weird enough. Gore Verbinski’s new film is a lot of macabre fun; women recline in bathtubs full of eels, jars of malformed fetuses line shelves, and everyone is losing their teeth. But there isn’t quite enough gothic strangeness to achieve the cult status the film is clearly aiming for. This is an 18 certified film, but it errs on the side of caution rather than spilling over into truly Cronenbergian body horror.
Deep in the Swiss Alps sits a medieval castle, now home to an exclusive sanitorium for the wealthy and unwell. It is here that Lockhart (Dane Dehaan) is sent by his corporate bosses, to retrieve their CEO so that he can sign off on a pending merger. On his way up the mountains, Lockhart is told by his driver that no one ever seems to come down the mountain. He is told something similar by Hannah (Mia Goth), a young girl who immediately stands out from the rest of the hospital’s aged clientele. Events conspire to keep Lockhart here longer than he anticipated, and from there begins our descent into madness and eels. Lots of eels.
At just under two and a half hours, A Cure for Wellness can be a bit of a slog. This isn’t helped by the pacing. The film seems to have two gears: glacial and WTF. Long stretches of nothing much are punctuated by all too brief flashes of demented and often bloody madness. The climax, though, is something special. It ups the mental ante at least twice before segueing to the final scene. If only the entire film had the same energy and frenzied inventiveness.
But it doesn’t. In a bizarre way, A Cure for Wellness feels like the director’s cut of a film that never saw an initial release. There is a lot of padding here, a lot of narrative beats that could easily have found a home on the cutting room floor (the story doesn’t make much sense, anyway). Some judicious editing to reduce the time between all the blood and insanity, and cult status would surely have beckoned.