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Film review: A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski’s sanatorium horror pales next to movie classics it borrows from

Beautifully realised but lacking narrative substance, this derivative film contains most of the genre tropes you’d expect but little of the tension

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 11:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 11:32am

2/5 stars

For his first feature since the notoriously unsuccessful The Lone Ranger , director Gore Verbinski plunders the depths of horror cinema history to tell a story of nefarious goings-on at a sinister and secluded sanatorium.

Nestled in the picturesque foothills of the Swiss Alps, the exclusive Volmer Clinic promises miraculous treatments using little more than locally sourced water. But when the CEO of a troubled Wall Street finance company checks himself in, an ambitious young executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), is tasked with retrieving him. Soon after his arrival, however, Lockhart begins to suspect all is not what it seems.

A Cure for Wellness’s Gore Verbinski was born to be a horror director

Embracing everything from Universal Monsters to Hammer Horror, A Cure for Wellness combines creepy European castles and restless commoners with meddling physicians and slimy, slithering grotesquery. Yet despite having proved himself an adept horror director in the past, especially with The Ring (2002), Verbinski fails to capture a whiff of atmosphere or tension.

During its two-and-a-half languid and laborious hours, the dubious practices of Herr Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and mysterious waif Hannah (Mia Goth) recall pre-code gems like The Island of Lost Souls and Dracula, as well as more recent offerings such as Shivers and The Shining.

While the sanitarium setting immediately reminds us of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth , real-life horrors including Nazi experimentation camps are never far from the mind.

Much like Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak or Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , beautifully realised production design proves no substitute for narrative substance. Rather than drawing from established classics to develop new ideas, A Cure for Wellness frustrates by offering little more than slightly quivering lip service.

What Verbinski clearly intended as heartfelt reverence only serves as further compelling evidence that today’s multiplex audiences would be far better served exploring the vast riches of cinema’s glorious past.

A Cure for Wellness opens on February 16

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