Editor’s Note: I am posting this from St. Lucia and will not get home until late next Wednesday so please forgive the fact that these will probably be shorter, less well researched, and posted irregularly. I also can’t promise a theme most nights since most of the horror I’m bringing with me is from my Universal Horror boxset so there won’t be as much variety.
10/21/2017 – Movie Length: A Cure for Wellness (2016)
Directed by Gore Verbinski
I’ll admit the inspiration for this is circumstance. As my time to write these is minimal, I’m really in favor of most of the movies I have with me being under 90 (or even under 80 or 70). Sadly, I also rented (due mostly to my being so busy I forgot to check my queue), a movie which is 146 minutes long. Eagerness to actually sleep is not the only thing that favors the shorter film as I will try and describe.
Generally, horror films operate under 100 minutes long and for good reason. Much of horror relies on both suspense and frequently suspension of disbelief that the characters can’t escape a situation (which are two of the many reasons I feel horror is not ideally suited to the miniseries form. One of the things I love most about older horror films, and especially Universal is that they are a breeze to get through. It’s a lot easier to get through and even enjoy a bad movie if it’s short and it doesn’t allow for much in the way of fluff. A lot of that is related to horror’s low budget history which favors shorter productions since they are cheaper to shoot and can be shown more times a day (and also pair very well as double features).
As time went on, films got longer (with a dip in the 80s which I attribute to all the cheap quick horror and sci-fi titles… also cocaine), including horror, but they still remained generally under that 90 or 100-minute runtimes for many of the same reasons that they always had been short. Of the 1020 horror films I’ve seen (if I had more time I’d do a more in-depth breakdown based on release year and that number is based simply on a IMDB search for horror), 250 have met or exceeded 100 minutes while that number drops to 112 at 110 minutes, 46 at 2 hours, 16 at 130 minutes, and 5 at 140 minutes. Of those 5, two are TV movies (Salem’s Lot which aired in two pieces and the stage recording of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), one is a compilation of two films of which only one is horror (well and some of the trailers and it’s Grindhouse). That leaves Kwaidan at 183 minutes although that is aided by being a anthology film and The Shining which is a downright fantastic film and impressive in the way it manages to sustain tension throughout.
But looking over the rest of the list of 130 minute+ (to clear out the titles which are effectively 2 hours or might even be less if that time counts credits) horror titles reveals some classics Rosemary’s Baby, Bone Tomahawk, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and some shit (Dreamcatcher, Carrie, and 13B) but as I look through most of the titles, I can only think about how most of them would benefit from a bit of trimming as seen this year with It. I don’t have an objection to long movies, but you better have a damn good reason for being that long and sure that you can sustain the tension throughout. There is an underrated value having a nice, tight film and you aren’t likely to hear the term “sprawling horror” film. You will hear “endurance test far more often”.
So the question is, does a A Cure for Wellness earn being the same length as The Shining and the second longest theatrically released horror film I have ever seen (with only a few such as Noriko’s Dinner Table even being relevant)? Considering it was a box office (with the length being a likely major factor) and critical bomb, signs were not pointing in its favor. I have a soft spot for Gore Verbinski though and for films that are described as “weird”. Plus as I was talking about a few days ago, I’m a sucker for a good minimalist poster and A Cure for Wellness
Verbinski may be known for the first 3 Pirates of the Caribbean films (only seen the first which was fine I guess), but to me it’s another trio of films that I think of him as helming. The Ring is one of those remakes which improves on its predecessor. The Weather Man is an overlooked but very good Nicolas Cage title which I think gets overshadowed by the similarly named (and little regarded) The Family Man as well as being sandwiched between National Treasure and The Wicker Man which saw Cage start to be defined in the public eyes as the bizarre character “Nicolas Cage”. The Lone Ranger is a film with two fantastic train scenes (the second one is especially amazing and should be considered as an instant classic) and a mostly well cast film, but suffers from bloat and a mostly terrible performance of Johnny Depp (though who could save those awful, pointless future scenes). I know Rango supposed to be good too but not having seen it, I can’t actually comment on it.
An almost Pan’s Labyrinth like intro song (complete with girl singing notes) leads to a man having a heart attack (and later revealed to be a senior executive). A young executive who has taken his place is blackmailed into heading to Switzerland (I’ll get to their films tomorrow) to convince the head of a company who seems to have gone mad to return to the US and sign some incriminating documents at the behest of the company’s board. I can’t say I’m a huge Dane DeHaan fan as he always seems to have a sort of put upon weirdness. The CEO has been staying in a wellness center with no phone service and a mostly older clientele presided over by a doctor played by Jason Isaacs putting on a thick accent.
On his way back to a hotel to await the release of the man His car hits an obviously CGI deer and careens off a road. Watching that deer struggle for life is truly heart wrenching though even with it looking pretty fake. He wakes up in the wellness center with a broken leg and if it isn’t obvious by the first time he shows up in the place, it is now that he’s gonna be trapped here. All the things at this center are spoken of as “The [Generic Noun]”. “The Cure (the application of liberal does of “Lovesong”), The Sickness (that which Disturbed was banging on about), etc. It’s all very silly and I’m torn between appreciating it for seeming like something out of a new age-y place and not being able to take it seriously.
DeHaan finds the CEO seemingly broken though really everyone seems off. There is one younger woman there who hums the song from the intro and one that he learned from his mother. She is played by Mia Goth who kind of reminds me of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ Lily Cole and is developmentally challenged (and physically developmentally challenged since she’s doesn’t hasen’t even had a period until a late scene in the movie). After the man is nearly convinced to go, he is hidden away in a more intensive treatment and another of the patients (played by Celia Imrie of Imagine Me & You and the Exoctic Marigold Hotel films) does some research of her own and she too is put under further treatment. DeHaan too starts to undergo treatments as he investigates the place and uncovers his history
In one of the treatments, DeHaan is submerged in a water isolation tank where he is seemingly hallucinates being surrounded by eels (the eel imagery is everywhere) and his clear distress (he even He flatlines and sinks to the bottom at one point) not noticed by an attendant who is busy jacking off to a nurse who removed her top and gives him a drop of some medicine (that numerous people are depicted taking). It’s a strange detail that would feel contrived if it wasn’t so bizarre and that whole sequence is fantastic.
The backstory is that some baron from a couple centuries ago attempted to treat his wife of infertility by experimenting on the local populace SPOILERS and if you can’t figure out the twist from this, there’s no helping you. The rest of the film concerns DeHaan’s attempts to escape, trying to convince people of the evil of the place, and trying to piece together the story, intercut with various tortures decreasingly under the veil of “treatment” as his belief he is unwell occasionally takes hold. I really like the imagery of watching them drill through one of his teeth graphically, as well as all the floating apparently lifeless shots that as depicted on the poster recur often, and the eel water transfusion device (which is how they make the medicine seen taken throughout). END OF SPOILERS It’s imagery enough to make the film recommend, but…
There’s a very good reason the film has the reputation it does. It goes overboard on the foreshadowing and the title, while cool sounding, is an obviously huge spoiler. Then again, the basic setup plus the fact that it is a horror movie spoils that enough. It also has a hard time escaping the serious Shutter Island overtones early that only get stronger. If you squint you can almost see DeHaan looking like Leo in that movie too but the film suffers by comparison to one of Scorsese’s best films. This movie is also incredibly padded as we watch the same revelations and plot beats happen again and again as it confusedly jumps around to which story it wants to tell.
But like The Lone Ranger before it, there’s so much here to like. Aside from some lapses in CGI and the way people seem to float when thrown, the film looks beautiful. It’s weird in a good way where it doesn’t feel forced aside from the way the film is forced to keep going. SPOILERS While the evilness of the place is obvious and I’d hardly say the basic methods of brainwashing and contaminating people with the water, causing their teeth to fall out, and ultimately mummifying their bodies to be fed to eels (okay maybe that last part is new) END OF SPOILERS the teeth thing got to me with my recent dealing with getting a stupid cap that managed to fall out and leaving me anxious and paranoid in the middle of the night. The score sounds almost Clint Mansell-like in places and in general worked perfectly with the film.
But that ending SPOILERS was super telegraphed. The twist that Isaac is actually the Baron and Goth his daughter with the Baron keeping her and the staff alive for centuries thanks to the elixir, is one that I imagine no one couldn’t have seen coming. I did not imagine he was going to try to marry her though and then try to rape her. Nor did I think he would just rip off his face before dancing about after being lit on fire like something out of a gothic horror movie while in another room people all in flowing white clothes waltz together. I also didn’t imagine he’d get his head split by what I think was a shovel. But hey, in a way DeHaan was cured of being a total douche at the beginning as he rides off with his new gal of questionable mental state and age. END OF SPOILERS
Like The Lone Ranger, I’m left wanting to like the film more than I did. They both took risks, had some fantastic imagery and set pieces, but they both were overstuffed and badly in need of a chainsaw to the script. The film doesn’t seem to want to be a slow burn as it shoves the foreshadowing in your face and doesn’t build gradually to a climax which is almost what the story called for. Or it could have gone for being The Cell and combining nonsense medicine with a relatively quick moving plot that exists to show off the wonderful imagery. You could have chopped out whole 20-minute chunks of the middle of the film and not missed a thing or felt like you deprived yourself of the plot. I guess I’d rather see a director with a surfeit of ideals than a lack, but until Verbinski (even at 115 minutes, The Ring could have used some tightening up) learns to reign back in his works and people learn to stop hiring Justin Haythe to write, he’s going to continue making films that are this close to greatness but instead are mediocre if memorable experiences, worth seeing but hard to recommend without major qualifiers.
One last thought, whoever invented the “anti-piracy” shit that prevents you from taking a screengrab on a Blu-ray can go shove a 6-inch-wide rusty pole straight up their ass. I spent far too long trying to get fucking print screen or my snipping tool to work (just for a damn featured image) before I found out the reason and I’m not installing multiple programs to do it.
Next up: As promised, I knock off another country with Sennentuntschi representing Switzerland.