Visually immaculate. Intellectually drab.
There is a parasite problem in Hollywood. A parasite simply cannot make do without a stronger force to supplement it. Gore Verbinski (The Ring) gave us a gothic nightmare earlier this year. It was a world of massively eerie proportions, but he, and co writer Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road), failed to populate it with interesting characters and compelling motives. Today I use his film A Cure for Wellness as an example of parasitic symbiosis. The act of organisms, in this case story, leaching on the style because its structure deems it unfit for survival. This is an observation on aesthetic being used a sustenance for weak storylines.
There is no doubt that Verbinski alongside director of photography Bojan Bazelli (Lone Ranger), crafted an intricate universe made up of unearthly structures, with the Swiss Alps as a backdrop. The stylization of A Cure for Wellness instantly captured the viewers’ attention. Dark skies and gloomy clouds looming over Lockhart’s (Dane DeHann) every move. He, an insolent young executive sent to retrieve his company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener) from a rather interesting wellness center. Before the journey even begins, the films clean-cut and otherworldly energy has enticed a viewer with the promise that it will be good. Nonetheless, it takes no more than a few minutes for the dialogue and characters to turn us off from caring.
Here we have an exquisitely designed film, aesthetically pleasing and boggling to the senses. The cinematography deserves a raised glass (perhaps not one full of water) for successfully doing what the story so miserably failed to do… fascinate us. Gore Verbinski gave us something to look at, but not to think about. The inviting look could almost make one forget the actual story weaving itself through Bazellis vision. A story so weak and lackluster, so poorly thought through, that viewers can better recall moments they saw something rather than learned.
For example, Lockhart’s drive up to the wellness center. A mysterious road, with tall brooding trees and a reserved chauffer by the name of Enrico (Ivo Nandi). The look alone was enough to tense the viewer. And our introduction to the ghostly girl we later recognize as Hannah (Mia Goth) spiked curiosity. This scene would have done perfectly fine if it were not for the exchange between Lockhart and Enrico. A dragged out back and forth of “This place is freaky” and “I don’t care. I’m doing my job.” We end up learning nothing new aside from Lockhart growing up fatherless from an almost comedic delivery of the line “I grew up without a father.”
The office scene when he meets Volmer (Jason Isaacs) is just as mind-numbing. Here we have two characters in a beautifully odd room, inspiring a Victorian vibe. And they are spewing out exposition, basically nudging towards the glass of water telling us “Hey, look at that. It’ll make sense later.” The writing, awkward and forced. The interaction, uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons. Dane DeHanns character is meant to be egotistical and ill-mannered, but his words offer nothing more than cartoonish one-liners where he continues reassuring us “I don’t care. I’m doing my job.”
And let us not forget (although almost impossible) the final moments of Lockhart. After nearly 146 minutes of him trying to escape and patients asking why he would ever want to, his rampage of questions and exploring is halted. Let us not underestimate the power of shock value. Here we cringe and curl up in our seats as our protagonist has a tube shoved deeply into his throat. He then is force-fed approximately a gallon of water and eels. The shot is brilliant, but why should the audience care beyond that? During all his interrogations, we know eels are something we should keep our eyes on but are never showed why. It is the actual confession of Volmer, that elucidates the reason behind the water, the wellness center, and the eels if we read between the lines. And that monologue can serve more as a movie recap than the lines of an insane doctor obsessed with carrying out his legacy. That is the problem with style over structure; we want to care but are given no reason to do so.
Hollywood’s parasite problem is perfectly exemplified in A Cure for Wellness. We see this vividly intense world with a population made up of underwhelming characters, blatant exposition, and awkward dialogue. These visually arresting moments, aside from being pure genius from Bojan Bazelli, are in essence crutches for Verbinski and Haythe. Their story left to wobble, much like Lockhart, around stylized backdrops, breathtaking structures, and gut turning shock value. A Cure for Wellness gave us something nice to look at, and that is all. A story that much as a parasite would, uses the stronger force to hold itself up, but the plot alongside the people in it are long forgotten in a haze of marvelous cinematography.