Hopefully by now you have had a chance to see A Cure For Wellness. I was glad I put my cloak of horror hesitation in the closet for the afternoon and took myself to a theatre.
I hadn’t heard of Dane DeHaan, but that is my own fault. I should have seen Life After Beth by now. I was aware of director Gregor “Gore” Verbinski’s work without knowing it was him. He directed The Ring in 2002, but he has also been behind the camera for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies as well as Rango (2011) and Disney’s The Lone Ranger (2013).
The varied resumes of both Verbinski and DeHaan could be what makes this movie work the way it does. They work as a team to make a film both new and comfortable.
The dark atmosphere sets in right away and doesn’t ever quite lift. DeHaan’s character Lockhart trudges through it, getting lost or being drawn to light at various times throughout.
He starts out as a smarmy and arrogant white collar master crook in the making. I loved how supremely unlikeable DeHaan plays Lockhart when we first meet him. To reserve his spot on the next rung of the corporate ladder (vacated by a recently deceased coworker) Lockhart is sent to retrieve the company’s CEO from a health spa in the Swiss Alps, and here is where the film becomes both formulaic (red flags that get ignored, unsettling reactions from medical staff) and kind of refreshing.
The foreshadowing via dialogue, the pregnant pauses, that one character you know is up to no good, are both comforting and repulsive to many horror fans. I find it is the actions of Lockhart, the owing of the character by DeHaan, that make the difference. Lockhart does not seem restrained by the usual horror tropes, free to wander the darkness and perhaps go a different way than we are used to, a way we won’t yell at the screen for.
I mentioned before Lockhart being drawn to light. Here, these lights are women; Lockhart’s mother and Hannah (Mia Goth), the mysterious young woman unlike any of the other patients. These seem to be the only characters that can shake him from the hold the spa is gaining on him, guides through the darkness created by male ambition.
There is plenty of spa-related nudity in this film, but until the end there isn’t much sexuality. If you have seen the film, you know that it’s actually an important theme of the film and each character wields the power of sexuality differently.
For Volmer we find out that it is the be all and end all, his raison de vivre if you will. This is a big deal when we learn he has been living for centuries longer than the rest of us. Lockhart (unintentionally imo) bestows Hannah with sexuality, a tool she has not been equipped to handle by her intentionally sheltered life. She shows that she wants to have power for herself when she pockets the lipstick at the bar in town and later applies it. This begins a process that becomes confusing for her, and Volmer takes advantage of her constructed naivete. Lockhart has made a life full of power in which he does not need to use sexuality to get what he wants. As a foil, Volmer has created one on which Hannah’s sexuality is the only thing he needs to get what he wants.
One interpretation of the symbology of the eels that recur throughout the film is that they represent masculinity (because they are phallic). They have a more balanced male energy than snakes and because they are submerged in water they represent the more emotional side of human nature. That they are shoved into patients to create Volmer’s “elixir” is phallic itself. Created from this forced entry is the concentrated liquid that extends the lives of those consuming it, in essence creating life from imposed maleness (a kind of metaphor for Volmer’s end game).
I am glad I saw A Cure For Wellness. I can forgive how the disappointing and slightly jarring ending departed from the dark atmosphere and donned almost a comic book feel. The Red Skull-esque transformation in a Phantom Of The Opera underground lair (complete with creepy altar) were welcome shout outs for me. I am fairly sure that Verbinski left enough bits in the film that allow for a prequel and I would see that too. Perhaps DeHaan can play a secret suitor for Volmer’s sister/wife, the true father of Hannah? That would be delightfully messed up.