In struggling to come up with the best way to describe Gore Verbinski’s bold new gothic horror, the term I kept returning to was “glorious mess”. There is a whole heaping pile of baroque horror insanity to enjoy here, especially if you’re a fan of Verbinski’s particular sense of visual lushness, but there’s no denying that the threads don’t quite fully connect in the way they were intended to.
That said, the manner in which the film eventually goes off the rails, narratively speaking, kind of feels in line with the overall mania of the whole enterprise.
There are multiple moments of genuine horror – the most disturbing clearly inspired by an infamous scene from Fredrick Wiseman’s acclaimed 1967 documentary Titicut Follies, which explored the horrific conditions in a state hospital for the criminally insane.
Indeed, Verbinski pulls inspiration from a variety of classic horror sources, and while you wouldn’t necessarily call the film derivative, it does struggle to manage the audience’s familarity with genre conventions. Mysteries that are blindingly apparent to all are teased endlessly while other questions remain frustratingly unanswered.
Dane DeHaan is an appropriately willowy protagonist, but you’ll be ten steps ahead of him the whole way. And you’ll struggle to shake the oft-presented image of him enjoying a large glass of water. Good luck getting through this film without a loo break.
As the head of the hospital DeHaan finds himself trapped in, Jason Issacs acts as if he just stepped off a nearby pantomime stage. But it works for the film, which is more than crazy enough to justify his performance.
A film like this needs to give the audience what it wants, as well as surprising it. There’s a little more of the former than the latter here.
Still, A Cure For Wellness is worth celebrating solely for being an impressively scaled studio horror film that isn’t a sequel or a reboot, and it’s a must see for anyone who likes their horror a little bit mental.