(US/Germany - 2017)
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Justin Haythe. Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Celia Imrie, Ivo Nandi, Carl Lumbly, David Bishins, Lisa Banes, Adrian Schiller, Tomas Norstrom, Ashok Mandanna, Magnus Krepper, Johannes Krisch, Susanne Wuest, Rebecca Street, Craig Wroe. (R, 146 mins)
It's a safe bet there won't be a more ambitious, audacious, and flat-out weird major-studio horror movie to hit multiplexes this year than A CURE FOR WELLNESS. That title probably isn't going to do it any favors, but in an era where horror films are typified by Blumhouse jump scares, found-footage fatigue, and the unbridled sycophancy of horror hipster scenesters, A CURE FOR WELLNESS seems like it's borne of another time and place. A modern-day gothic throwback, it seems to have been made with little concern for mainstream appeal by Gore Verbinski, who established his genre bona fides with the 2002 RINGU remake THE RING but soon became synonymous with bloated, mega-budget summer fare like the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films. Perhaps seeking a fresh start after the costly flop that was 2013's THE LONE RANGER, Verbinski was obviously allowed to make the film he wanted to make with A CURE FOR WELLNESS, even if 20th Century Fox was only willing to put up half of the $40 million budget, necessitating the involvement of German co-producers Studio Babelsberg. Headlined by recognizable actors but no expensive big names, it's a film so exquisitely crafted and meticulously detailed that it looks like it could've easily cost $200 million. Working from a script by REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and LONE RANGER screenwriter Justin Haythe, Verbinski wears his love of high-class horror on his sleeve throughout: themes and imagery conjure memories of everything from Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING, the dreamlike scenarios of Andrei Tarkovsky, the claustrophobic anxiety of Roman Polanski classics like REPULSION, ROSEMARY'S BABY (especially that lullaby-like theme), and THE TENANT, and the gothic Italian chillers of the 1960s by genre legends like Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti, with the climax especially feeling like a gushing love letter to a certain early 1970s Bava film. Verbinski's playing the long game with A CURE FOR WELLNESS, a film likely to alienate casual moviegoers but one that's intended more for the more hardcore horror devotee to appreciate and dissect for many years to come.