Gore Verbinski’s macabre conspiracy horror A Cure for Wellness is long. Very long. It is two and a half hours long, but you can’t be sure if it isn’t two and a half days, or two and a half months, or if some of the scenes unfolding on screen may in fact be hallucinations you are having privately. Yet there is something eerily mesmeric in it.
The action is set in a creepy Swiss alpine spa where rich people take the waters. In one scene, a male nurse is seen reading Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Maybe he was finished with Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, an arrogant young Wall Street hotshot tasked by his hatchet-faced superiors with journeying to this very spa and bringing home the CEO who has suffered some kind of Kurtzian breakdown as a patient; he is now raving about wellness and refusing to leave. Once there, Lockhart encounters the spa’s sinister director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and is fascinated by a delicate, wraith-like young woman he sees wandering about the grounds: Hannah, played by British newcomer Mia Goth. None of the patients wants to leave. Will Lockhart join them?
This has something of Ira Levin or Stephen King, and vast swaths of the film are spent in dreamlike wandering along the spa’s endless Kubrickian corridors and recoiling in horror at its chilling clinical restraints. There is a truly horrible dentist scene. At the end, Verbinski has to fudge the issue of whether Lockhart has joined the hypnotised ranks, but the movie’s operatic claustrophobia makes its mark. Cult status beckons.