Geography lesson over, this films kicks off with ambitious and successful young corporate executive type named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) working for a successful New York financial services firm who is sent on a mission to retrieve the company's CEO from a seemingly idyllic yet mysterious wellness centre located in the remote Swiss Alps. The Board of Directors back at the Company have an ulterior motive for wanting to retrieve their CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), because his signature is needed to execute some important documents that will pave the way for a merger with a competitor company that will see this firm become one of the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard, and from which all Executives will receive a substantial benefit, including Lockhart.
Initially reluctant to undertake the task, Lockhart relents and we see him aboard the Alpine Express as it weaves its way along lush snow capped mountain sides en route to its destination somewhere in the Swiss Alps. He is busy at his computer checking the days trade, speaking simultaneously on his mobile phone to some lackey back at the office, whilst chewing on Nicabate gum.
We then see him in his hire car being driven up the mountain by Chauffeur Enrico (Ivo Nandi) who gives him the full lo-down on the 200 year old tragic and sinister history of the castle before their arrival at the grand spa. Today the spa is said to offer health giving properties from its natural spring waters which is drunk in copious quantities by the residents, and when coupled with various hydrotherapy treatments, water based exercise regimes, a clean diet and lack of alcohol, technology and other worldly distractions make the health retreat very appealing to those that can afford to stay. And the place is busy, full of white robed residents enjoying a meal on the marble verandah, or playing gentle sport on the extensive manicured lawns or engaging in therapeutic treatments to cure their ailments. But nearly all of the residents are old, either close to or beyond retirement age! There would be no one in the place (other than the dedicated staff) who is anything less than sixty!
Upon Lockhart's arrival, he is met with some resistance from the staff, especially Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs). In demanding to meet with Pembroke he is met with further resistance, but does make contact. Pembroke is very reluctant to engage with Lockhart, but does eventually saying that his corporate days are behind him. Finally, Lockhart does appeal to Pembroke's better judgement, but Lockhart's success is short lived when he is forced to remain at the Centre due to a leg injury sustained in a car accident driving back down the mountain with Enrico, after Pembroke suddenly became unavailable.
Waking up in a bed in the Centre after being out cold for two days and with his leg in a plaster cast, he eventually meets up with another much younger patient Hannah (Mia Goth) who drinks from a cobalt blue bottle a strange looking liquid, that he had seen Volmer also drinking from earlier in the day, and which he claimed were highly concentrated vitamins. Hobbling about on crutches now, he then meets with Victoria Watkins (Celia Imrie) another aged resident and self confessed amateur historian, who divulges things about the Centre's past and the former owner, a Baron, dating back some two hundred years to the time when the original buildings were razed to the ground by all consuming fire. The Baron was so obsessed with having a pure blood heir that he married his sister, but when he discovered that his sister and now wife was infertile, he began performing outlandish experiments on the peasants of the area in an attempt to find a cure. When he did find a cure, his now pregnant wife was burned alive at the stake, but not before the baby was cut from her womb and allegedly tossed in the aqueduct, where she apparently survived.
Spurned on by the unfolding history of the place, and the mystery of his own observations, Lockhart decides to investigate, and see what he can uncover, becoming more inquisitive with every passing day. When he seeks to reveal his initial findings to Volmer, these are quickly dismissed, and the good Doctor suggests a course of treatments to relieve the stress and anxiety of the recent car accident, his broken leg and to forget the demands of his corporate life. He suggests a session is a sensory deprivation tank for thirty minutes, floating in a state of suspended submerged animation with nothing but an air line and his thoughts to clear his mind. Lockhart nearly drowns when he has visions of being engulfed in the depths of the tank by attacking eels, and when the orderly supervising the treatment is temporarily 'distracted' by a female nurse. He is rescued however, and continues his treatments, and his clandestine investigations therefore.
He witnesses more strange goings on around the property and becomes more suspicious. On his travels around the extensive Centre he comes across a 'Forbidden' wing to which he gains entry. Lockhart enters the transfusion wing of the spa that is in reality a front for strange medical experiments where eels are filtered through the bodies of the patients, to produce the highly concentrated 'cure' that he had previously seen Volmer and Hannah digesting at the end of a pipette. He enters another room to evade capture and is confronted with tanks each containing a resident floating motionless upright - are they dead or alive?
Lockhart is captured by Volmer in the corridors trying to make escape from the horrors he has just witnessed. By now Volmer's patience is wearing thin with this pesky little corporate type sticking his nose in everywhere. Lockhart is subjected to nightmarish treatments that warp his mind like Pembroke that include having a front tooth drilled out without the aid of any anaesthetic, and having eels forced down his throat so that he too can produce the 'cure'.
After his 'treatments', Lockhart's mind is indeed fried. In his room he begins to pen a letter to his employers back in New York stating that he intends to remain at the spa, but in a moment of clear vision, he comes to realise that his leg was never actually broken. Using a smashed drinking glass he cuts off his plaster cast, and lo and behold, no broken leg! He goes in search of Hannah, whom he has forged a friendship with. Concurrently she is experiencing her first menstrual cycle and enters the swimming pool at night, where she bleeds. She doesn't understand what's happening to her body. The eels enter the pool and swim around her legs as if to attack at the smell of her blood, and then form a perfect circle around her keeping their distance. This allows her to leave the pool unharmed. She confronts Volmer in the dining room over dinner, demanding to know what is happening to her body and what it means. Volmer is delighted, and subsequently arranges a lavish party where he intends to marry the young girl.
During the party Volmer leads Hannah down into a secret room below the main buildings into the burnt out ruins of the original castle. There hangs a portrait of the Baron's sister who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hannah, and located all around the room are the results of previous experiments, specimen jars containing human organs and malformed foetuses, and all manner of equipment, transcripts, notes and sundry surgical type paraphernalia. Volmer ties Hannah to a bed and intends to rape her, as Lockhart locates them having realised that Volmer is in fact the father of Hannah. Furthermore it is revealed that Volmer is in fact the Baron who survived the fire of 200 years ago and has lasted these past centuries by consuming the 'cure' in regular small doses. In his attempt to free Hannah a fight breaks out between Volmer and Lockhart, at which point Volmer rips of his face mask revealing a grotesquely disfigured face below and proof positive of his real identity. During the fight, Lockhart manages to engulf Volmer in flame which alights the surrounding soft furnishings and flammable surgical liquids in the room. In turn the fire quickly spreads through the ageing infrastructure, resulting in the Centre erupting in a ball of flame in no time.
Lockhart and Hannah make their escape down the hill on a bicycle, only to collide with a car coming up the hill containing Lockhart's employers who have come to retrieve him and Pembroke. They demand that he return with them to New York and get in the car immediately. After considering his options for all of three seconds, he gets back on the bike with Hannah and cycles around them and down the hill, with a huge grin on his chops!
I enjoyed 'A Cure for Wellness' for its strong acting performances from DeHaan, Isaacs and Goth especially, the solid original story, and the beauty of the cinematography. The film looks great; it creates a sense of foreboding, apprehension and anxiety; and Verbinski is to be congratulated for making a film as original as he has, that is visually stunning, stylish and equally malevolent all at once. However, at a running time of 147 minutes it is overly long and could easily have been cut by twenty minutes; and you would have to question Lockhart's nouse as he randomly signs away unknown documents and doesn't seem to learn from his past mistakes or errors of judgement while at the Centre, which just leave him wide open for further exploitation at the hands of a mad scientist. And the ending, when it eventually does come, is just a little too convenient and too contrived, and it's hard to really root for a character who after all this time we have come to care little for, and have no emotional connection with. That said, the film is worth a look.
-Steve, at Odeon Online-