Pretty much every reviewer is asking themselves the same question about "A Cure for Wellness": namely, how in God's name did this movie get made? It's the kind of movie that Hollywood executives generally shy away from: a big-budget horror film that traffics primarily in surreal unsettling images and a general weird atmosphere. Movies like this don't get bank rolled by 20th Century Fox. They get made on a shoe string budget in the filmmaker's back yard and go straight to DVD.
I suspect the reason this movie exists is that director Gore Verbinski is a big enough name in Hollywood to pursue passion projects like this dues to his success with the Pirates of the Carribean movies. And though he's mostly associated with those films these days, it's important to note that he also directed the seminal 2000s horror film, The Ring, so it's not like he doesn't have genre cred. But the film itself is so strange and non-commercial, that it's hard to see anyone green lighting it.
It's possible the studios didn't know what the film was going to be like when they read the pitch. As a bare bones outline, the plot isn't something that hasn't been done in horror movies before.
The story involves Lockhart, a young stock-broker played by Dane DeHaan, who is tasked by his employer to locate the CEO of his company, Pembroke (Harry Groener). Pembroke has apparently suffered a nervous breakdown and is refusing to return from a trip to a health spa in the Swiss Alps known for its healing waters.
Lockhart goes to the health spa but, after a car accident, he suffers a broken leg and stays at the spa while he recuperates. He begins to suspect that the director of the spa, Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is hiding something. He soon discovers that he can not leave the spa and begins to investigate the strange goings-on which have a mysterious connection to an incestuous family of nobles killed in a fire hundreds of years ago. So far, this sounds like the standard set-up for a haunted house/ castle with a dark secret movie.
But the plot of the film is mostly an excuse for a variety of disturbing set pieces many of them involving eels. (This, by the way is the first horror film, I can think of that makes use of the fact that eels are kind of terrifying. I, personally, have always felt that they have disturbingly human eyes.) "A Cure For Wellness" by the way ,is the kind of film, where any Freudian overtones that come from having the main character menaced by eels are, of course, completely intentional.
Anyways, the set-pieces, long with some truly good acting, are the real reasons to see this movie. Dane DeHaan, an actor who always looks like he is on the verge of a mental breakdown anytime he appears on screen, is perfectly cast as Lockhart. Casting Jason Isaacs, a steel,-jawed, classically handsome, non-nonsense type as the main antagonist makes an excellent counterpart to the manic, increasingly unhinged DeHaan. And Mia Goth's odd and etherial performance as Hannah, a young patient at the clinic who Lockhart befriends, is captivating.
Unfortunately, the movie starts strong but runs out of steam in it's third act where it begins to drag. (After about the third unsuccessful escape attempt, you'd think they'd realize keeping Lockhart around is more trouble than it's worth and just kill him.) What begins as a horror story that plays with ideas that the true disease of mankind is the scourge of wealth and capitalism become a more straight-up monster movie. The ending play out like an R-rated Universal monster movie, while one revelation recalls the 1971 Vincent Price mad scientist movie The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
Furthermore, you get the sense that the only reason that the movie wind up this long is that Verbinski and the studio decided to change the ending. Without to much spoilers, there's a bit towards the end of the film with a gorgeous shot of the Swiss Alps, that would have been a great place to end the movie. As it is, allthough the film is worth a look, it runs out of steam in the last half-hour