A Cure for Wellness review – a unique psychological horror

by | 24 Feb 2017 | Film Reviews

‘An executive’s sanity is tested when he is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from a mysterious wellness centre in the Swiss Alps.’

Directed by Gore Verbinski A Cure for Wellness centres around a young stockbroker named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who is sent to a remote “wellness spa” in the Swiss Alps. His task is to bring back his company’s CEO who recently sent them a letter displaying signs of insanity. Once there, he meets the mysterious Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) who is unhelpful and evasive.

A young girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) who tells him no one ever leaves, and after a car accident when he tries to do just that, he ends up staying and is subjected to strange treatments for the mysterious illness Volmer claims all the patients have. As time goes by, Lockhart’s sanity is stretched and tested to its limit, and he must delve into the dark history of the local area to uncover its hidden secrets and find a way out.

Considering this is only Verbinski’s second horror film since he remade Japanese horror The Ring way back in 2002. He still shows a great aptitude for this genre, and although not a perfect film, still has enough going for it to enjoy. It’s actually quite different from today’s average scary movie, and he shows boldness in doing something out of the ordinary. A Cure for Wellness is a film that harks back to the classic Gothic horrors of old, spliced with a psychological/mystery thriller that has a stronger focus on creating a dour and claustrophobic mood. Rather than the typical formula of building up tension followed by jump scares.

‘The tone of A Cure for Wellness goes that in the opposite direction, with Verbinski offering no traditional pay-off.’

Instead, he delivers this constant, nagging, and oppressive atmosphere of unease. It should also score points for its plot, which is genuinely unpredictable (or for me at least), and has a conclusion that’s hard to guess, maintaining an element of mystery throughout the film.

That unnerving atmosphere is expertly created, and Verbinski uses every tool at his disposal to make sure you’ll be as uncomfortable as possible. He uses an otherworldly score by Benjamin Wallfisch that really helps lull your senses and brings you into sync with the numbed mental state of the spa’s patients. The film also has some extremely chilling cinematography and disturbing visuals that at times brings it into more body horror territory. One scene in particular will have you questioning if you ever want to go to the dentist again. There’s also a lot of imagery involving eels that will certainly get you squirming in your seats.

Verbinski plays around with the camera, providing us with some uneasy and disorientating angles. He routinely uses shots that are both hauntingly and beautifully framed at the same time. The production design is also very effective in presenting this very unsettling environment with its very sterile and clinical aesthetic, mixed with a very dour green colour palette, adding to that gloomy atmosphere. All these elements combine together to make for a really unnerving experience. Just like it did with Verbinski’s unsettling Ring remake, which this film is clearly reminiscent of.

‘Despite the effective atmosphere, the film is far from flawless, and there are a few aspects that bring it down.’

The story, although original, isn’t told very well, where things aren’t explained properly and it’s hard to follow what’s going on. Maybe that was Verbinski’s plan. To have the audience as confused as DeHaan’s character, and help us get into his mindset, but even by the end, there’re parts of the story which are left unexplained. With plot holes in the middle, we’re left with a rather messy and jumbled narrative. The final act descends into a very conventional format and undoes the more subdued and moody tone the film had set up in the beginning. On top of all that, it’s also a long film at nearly two and half hours. It can drag in places with unnecessary, drawn out scenes that serve no real purpose, making this a film that won’t be for everyone.

DeHaan’s Lockhart, as a protagonist, does a good job as our point of view character, and his gradual descent into madness as he slowly discovers the secrets of this malevolent spa is well portrayed. He also gives a convincing transformation from this unlikeable, self-centred individual, to a more sympathetic hero type character. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the other main cast members, who are serviceable but rather unexceptional, and not very compelling. Isaacs’ is your basic and bland villain and hits all the familiar beats of an evil doctor, and Goth’s Hannah, although eccentric, ends up being a typical damsel in distress for DeHaan to save.

‘A Cure for Wellness is a unique, old school gothic horror film, and its originality is something to be praised.’

With a strong emphasis on mood and atmosphere over conventional scares, and some body horror thrown in for good measure. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into. What holds it back is an incoherent story, some underwhelming characters, and an uneven pace with a third act squeezed in which does a disservice to the rest of the film and feels tacked on. Other than that, it’s a solid film with enough to appreciate and enjoy.

Film Details

18 · 2h 26m · 2017.


Drama · Horror · Thriller.


Dane DeHaan · Ivo Nandi · Jason Isaacs · Mia Goth.


Gore Verbinski.


Gore Verbinski · Justin Haythe (screenplay and story).


Bojan Bazelli.


Lance Pereira · Pete Beaudreau.


Benjamin Wallfisch.


scene of sexual assault · strong violence.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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