Something ominous stirs in Dane DeHaan’s cistern. His character, Lockhart, has been holed up in a remote Swiss health clinic for several days, and there’s clearly something weird about the place. The nurses seem cold and furtive; doctors insist that everyone has to drink gallon after gallon of water. One inmate, played by Celia Imrie, talks darkly of a peasant uprising that left the huge old castle a smoking husk a couple of centuries before.
This is A Cure For Wellness, a kind of gothic mystery with generous streaks of Cronenbergian body horror. After several years of expensive tentpole movies for Disney – a flotilla of Pirates Of The Caribbeans, The Lone Ranger – it marks a return to the less action-heavy work he was doing earlier in his career, such as the glossy remake of the J-horror hit, Ring.
A Cure For Wellness begins not in the Swiss alps, but in New York: there’s trouble brewing at a Wall Street firm, caused partly by DeHaan’s Lockhart’s dodgy dealing. And so, for reasons too lengthy to explain here, Lockhart’s despatched to find the company’s erstwhile boss, who’s gone to the Swiss health spa and promptly vanished.
Lockhart therefore packs a bag and heads to Europe, fully intending to shove his boss in a taxi and head back to Manhattan. But a series of events turns Lockhart from testy visitor to helpless patient (complete with a plaster cast on his leg), and he’s left with little choice but to wander the sanatorium’s tiled corridors in search of mysteries to solve. Who’s that ethereal-looking girl (played by the appropriately-named Mia Goth) who tiptoes about on the battlements? What’s that stuff the doctors – including the spa’s commander in chief, Volmer (Jason Isaacs) are always drinking out of little blue bottles? Just what is that thing clattering about in Dane DeHaan’s cistern, anyway?
Such is the fodder for a decent, taut neo-gothic thriller, with secret passages, locked doors, madness and guilty family secrets. The only trouble is, A Cure For Wellness is far from taut: unlike, say, a Blumhouse horror offering, Verbinski allows his mystery to spin out for a self-indulgent 150-or-so minutes. Worryingly, the languid pace and waltzing, Rosemary’s Baby-ish theme music makes it feel longer still.
None of this is to say that A Cure For Wellness isn’t nicely shot and mounted; this is a grand, sumptuous-looking film, shot on location in an old German castle which is as handsome as it is cold and eerie. There are also moments of suspense and outright horror, which recall all kinds of classy genre movies from the 70s – Rosemary’s Baby (again), Suspiria, Marathon Man and so forth. Taken as a whole, however, the movie doesn’t have enough going on to sustain its monumental length; the moments of creeping about and dialogue between shocks are so long that there’s plenty of time to figure out what’s coming next, or failing that, you can think about what’s for dinner tonight, or wonder whether you left the bathroom light on before you left the house.
DeHaan does his best in the lead, yet even an actor as talented as he is can’t do too much with such a flatly-written role. Screenwriter Justin Haythe gives Lockhart a past that should make him worth rooting for, but in the present, he’s something of a humourless blank – that DeHaan is forced to spend many, achingly long minutes staring pensively at doors, walls, cups of water and his own toilet doesn’t do much to put us in his headspace.
The supporting cast is given even less to chew on. Jason Isaacs is saddled with an iffy German accent like a Nazi officer from British sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo, Celia Imrie does crossword puzzles, and Mia Goth gets an early shout for the most thankless role for an actress in a 2017 film. It’s this latter point that sticks in the throat like one of the six thousand cups of water Dane DeHaan quaffs through this interminably long film. Having kept us waiting in a darkened cinema for what feels like days, the movie takes us into territory that somehow manages to be annoyingly obvious, absurd and distasteful all at the same time.
Like so many American horror movies, the nastiness that occurs in A Cure For Wellness could have been avoided had its characters cancelled their tickets to Europe and stayed at home. We’d strongly advise would-be cinema-goers to do the same.
A Cure For Wellness is out in UK cinemas on the 24th February.