A Cure for a Normal Story
Was quite surprised to see the critical response to this little film before I saw it. It’s pretty much been flogged by every other critic with a mad-on for it. Strangely, after seeing it, I find I did not hate this film. It’s got problems to be certain, but not enough for me to hate the movie completely. There are some genuinely great ideas to be mined from this venture…but those problems are so massive that they eclipse what would have otherwise had been a decent spook house production like Crimson Peak dropping the obvious murder-mystery but adding in so, so, SO much more messed up ideas that the director, Gore Verbinski, wasn’t prepared to handle.
Our protagonist is Lockhart (played by the brunette knockoff Leonardo DiCaprio, Dane DeHaan), a skeevy and pompous little shit who also happens to be an investment banker in New York. His company is about to close a big merger, but the higher-ups need the CEO back to close the deal and he’s now refusing to return to the States as he’s receiving some kind of treatment from a wellness center tucked away in the Swiss Alps. So, the company’s higher ups blackmail Lockhart to go and retrieve their boss so they can pin any and all legal troubles on the CEO, and allow themselves to be rich as hell. However, Lockhart finds that the wellness center’s patients are all acting strangely as they pray for some kind of cure to…something. Meanwhile, the center’s staff act completely suspiciously to Lockhart, especially the head of this establishment Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs). Also acting weird is a strange girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) who speaks in riddles and drinks a mysterious, brown liquid like the rest of the medical staff. Lockhart himself is also experiencing strange hallucinations after he finds himself a patient of the facility when he accidentally gets into a car accident.
Actually, I should probably use the word “hallucinations” loosely here. Without wishing to spoil, what he experiences doesn’t make any goddamn sense once the rest of the film reveals the true motives of everyone involved. And that’s probably the biggest problem with this movie: the story. There’s multiple reasons why it doesn’t work, but I’ll try to organize my thoughts in a way that makes sense, which is more than I can say the filmmakers did when they were putting this together.
First of all, you have the Crimson Peak problem of an intriguing gothic horror style brought down by a mystery with the most obvious answer. In Guillermo Del Toro’s flawed work, you a whodunnit where you knew exactly who was the killer BEFORE the murder actually happened. Similarly, in A Cure for Wellness, you have a fourth act (more on that later) twist that is so clearly telegraphed that you can figure out the antagonist’s end game less than halfway through. Mostly because the film keeps banging on and on and ON about the wellness center’s violent past of a Baron who was into incest and purity, while the hospital staff can’t stop going on and on and ON about purity themselves. And of course the guy who goes about speechifying everything about what is “pure” or not is Jason Isaac’s Dr. Volmer.
The other big problem with the story is that the movie is trying to set everything up as if Lockhart is just being paranoid as opposed to actually experiencing a nefarious plot against him. Now Get Out helpfully demonstrated how to deal with paranoia as a plot device in a horror scenario, and how to make it a believable phenomena even in a situation that would make most people want to escape the situation. What’s going in favor of A Cure for Wellness is that Lockhart’s leg is broken and therefore his mobility is severely hampered, making him stay at the hospital more believable. What doesn’t work is when Lockhart manages to get out of the clinic halfway through the film…and ends up going back. Now the film phrases it as he’s still hellbent on getting the CEO back to New York, but Lockhart’s life is now clearly in danger and he still goes along with the treatments he receive even though it’s fucking with his mind…or is it?
No, I’m not being rhetorical, the film fumbles itself in making all the crazy stuff happening to Lockhart appear to be a hallucination and actually happening at the same time. The film at this point was given me strong flashbacks to Shutter Island, but that film’s plot progression and resolution makes abundantly more sense than this film. You’re not creepy imagery that he experiences either; instead, it’s merely eels swimming around places they shouldn’t. And what’s the point of the eels? Is there some grand symbolism to them? Some metaphor they are trying to stand in? Nope, there just slimy creatures. Oh…so…I mean…yeah I guess some people would get goosebumps about that, but is that seriously a fear that most people have and I just didn’t know about it?
Whatever, some of the imagery utilized with the eels come across as more clever art pieces than something genuinely scary. And that’s fine, hell I enjoyed it for the most part in this film similarly to my own reaction with Crimson Peak. There’s even many a clever angle shots and cinematography that make me wish I were seeing this in a much stronger film. Sadly, the film’s plot and excessively long run time (hence necessitating four acts as opposed to a traditional three) bring the experience down. Finally a bitter taste is left in your mouth when the aforementioned fourth act begins that felt completely unnecessary, undeserved and just plain shocking for shock’s sake.
Not helping the proceedings is that your protagonist a thoroughly detestable caricature of a stock market goon. Now, it’d be one thing if he gained some kind of appreciation through his bizarre experience or his arrogance is what’s leading him down the road to ruin, but this movie wants to have its cake and eat it too. Even though he’s a repulsive man, the film clumsily tries to make you sympathize with him by showing his connection to his mother (who exits out of the film in the most confusing way imaginable) and the mysterious girl inhabiting the clinic. Thing is, that just makes him look as a poorly written character rather than someone with a lot of depth that I’d want to follow.
To get an idea of what I mean, take the protagonist of the first Sinister. You had an unlikable protagonist who willingly put his family’s sanity and safety in danger as he continues his investigation into the paranormal. But what makes Sinister work is the fact that Ethan Hawke’s character’s reason for conducting his investigation in this manner is intriguing. It’s motivated by a combination of pride and duty before he finds himself way in over his head. That’s how you write a character, your audience is invested in finding out what happens next because they are curious to see what this person will do next. Or, you take a more simple approach and just make your protagonist likable enough to root for him or her to survive the next day, once again see Get Out for a crash course in how to do this effectively.
A Cure for Wellness fails to give you a likable or interesting main character, so your investment is limited to finding out what the mystery behind this clinic is. But as already stated, you can quickly figure that out based on some pretty damn obvious clues the movie practically covers in neon lights. I’m not going to give the actors too tough of a time as it was clear that were all trying their best with what they had to work with. But Gore Verbinski, bless his heart, was more interested in making a cool-looking horror flick rather than something that could genuinely unnerve you.
Pretty disappointing, especially for such a promising trailer, but the visuals are amazing enough that I can recommend a Netflix viewing easily. And based on the theatrical audience reaction to this film, this seems appropriate enough. So I’ll give this a…