This movie, if nothing else, succeeds in creating atmosphere. While you are watching the scenes unfolds you absolutely have a sense of how it feels to be there. What temperature the rooms are, how the objects feel and how much dread you should be feeling. A Cure for Wellness is a Gothic tale that put’s before us the human condition of comfort over accomplishment and accomplishment over being fulfilled. Along for the ride are some truly disturbing images, suspenseful buildups and intricately designed visuals.
Our tale starts at night, where a man is working high in a building in New York, typing code into a computer, he receives a letter with a mysterious emblem on it, then suffers a fatal heart attack. Because of this a young ladder-climber named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) takes over his position. The letter is read, it is from a man named Roland Pembroke that is an important CEO to the company, in the letter he writes about the sick nature of the human condition he found himself in and now that he has found peace in his wellness center, he will not return. The members of the board all concur that he’s gone loony but they need him for a merger, so it falls on Lockhart to bring him back.
It becomes obvious very quickly that Lockhart (we never learn his first name), is a dedicated and hardworking individual but is not happy, he has none to create a personal life with and is direct and to the point always.
When he gets there the staff are a little to good at their job and proficient to be natural, all the clients are blissful elderly people from all over the world. The center itself has a very interesting history that is told in-part to him by his driver and the rest is revealed later. He is past visiting hours so he must come back tomorrow. On his way back a deer runs in-front of the car, causing a crash. He then wakes in the center, a cast now on his leg.
Like Verbinski’s last movie there is the use of water as a key theme. In that movie it was the desired substance of life, here it’s in bountiful supply, only there’s a questioning of how healthy it really is.
In order for a movie location to be memorable or even become a character in the film it needs to be distinctive and have personality. This is one of those locations, the wellness center is a place that is too damn clean, in some places and others is a shaking, metallic organism and in others a ancient Gothic tomb. All these different themes of the same building feed into the many goals of it and both serves the plot and express the mood of the scene.
I like this movie for the same reason I like Dark City. Because it simultaneously has a mystery plot that peels itself back one layer at a time until we finally get to the truth and stands as visual nourishment. This is a movie with themes that feed into what is onscreen and shows us things that will move you on the images alone. We have become too complacent with seeing things onscreen, we need to feel things when we see them in a movie. These images will accomplish this.
Like any well constructed movie the sound is intricately designed. Every object and action has a sound and it is captured in razor sharp detail. Everything from the pipes moaning, the drip, drip, dripping of a tap or the creak of crutches when weight is applied to them.
Then adding life to the rest of the mood is Benjamine Wallfisch with the score. At times, it a is dancing fairy-tale, while others are filled with movements of low frequencies that will unsettle you in your seat and others where it becomes a teeth-shattering and panic inducing.
This movie has an 18 certificate and it is earned. This is a dark tale with more than disturbing images on-screen as well as leaving other moments to the imagination. Along with all of that there is the mystery of the building and its true intentions which you will need a strong stomach for. Plus all of these things are wrapped together with the theme of reflecting on human nature, of being complacent and ignorant or reliant and unfulfilled.
There are moments that don’t add up, others that can be cut out and sometimes when it embellishes itself on the gore and/or the more obvious scary elements it goes past the line and becomes too much. But like Argento’s Suspiria, as an experience of movie watching, as something that has images that move and sounds that resonate within you, it is undeniably effective.