Thursday, August 10, 2017

Extreme Gothic: The Cure for Wellness

Very few films can claim to have it all. This one does. The Cure for Wellness (2016) has heady doses of Gothicism, body horror, psychological terror, and a disturbingly believable modern aesthetic.

New York financial analyst Lockhart is sent by his employers to fetch the boss, who's seemingly gone off the deep end while taking in the waters at a shi-shi  spa/clinic/resort/asylum set in the Swiss Alps. Then there's the old, "I'm not a patient" routine, and things devolve from there.


This movie has a lot of things going on, but they all work together in a surprisingly deft way that is simultaneously horrifying and refreshing. To summarize:

This is a solidly gothic film. The entire beginning of the plot is structured like Dracula-a young man at a firm sent to get the senior exec who's lost his marbles. He's staying up at the mountain, where the old castle has been converted to a luxe retreat for high-powered magnates suffering from society's ills. There is a sharp divide between the castle staff and the dwellers below-a legend of an incestuous, sadistic baron destroyed by fire, and rumors of crazy experiments keeping people away in the past and the present. There's the mysterious grounds keeper, who is not carrying water, as he claims, down to the subterranean bowels of the castle. There are secrets: hidden identities, relationships, motivations.

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I'd be totally relaxed by this, wouldn't you?
It's also the best asylum-based horror scenario I've ever seen. I'm normally intrigued by such settings, but end up rolling my eyes at trite, tropish storytelling. Not here. The hydrotherapies offered at the castle were well-developed and thought out, and the water theme gave everything a sense of robust detail and cohesion. Nevermind that there's something in the water, and the clientele are slowly withering away like Egyptian mummies. Aside from the gothic layers, there are layers of mad science that, combined with the other elements of the film, turn the plot into more of a labyrinth. There are layers and sublayers, and then there are sublayers. Then's there's the sideways surrealism of such scenes where Lockhart gets lost in the steam rooms, made all the more special by the kinds of truly bizarre touches that earned the director, Gore Verbinski, kudos for his version of The Ring.

Jason Isaacs (the head doctor) wears an excellent mask of serenity as Lockhart's horror deepens, and the layers of deceit, exertions of power, and questions of sanity are just thin enough to be perfect. Normally, when one goes the way of cerebral terror, they refrain from body horror: the visceral, "oh my god I'm gonna be sick this is so cool" element. I've never seen the two work together so well, and this is mainly a praise of the careful plotting. Wrap both of those in a simultaneously gothic and modern sensibility, and this is the result: it borders on genius. This is a near perfect film, and my only regret is not seeing it sooner. The trailer did it absolutely no justice. But don't be fooled. This film is incredible, and should not be missed.

K Rating: 10/10

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1 comment:

  1. I had shied away from ordering this one from Netflix. After your recommendation, I'm going to get it. Thanx.

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