aNewDomain — In the modern world, monsters need explanations. We don’t believe in vampires or werewolves by and large and, when we write about them now. We need recourse to some kind of rational explanation.
Viruses are today’s bogeymen. And that’s what Gore Verbinsky’s new film, A Cure for Wellness, is all about.
The story is set in a sanitarium, a spa for excessively rich, elderly people. A series of apparently random events causes Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) to be a reluctant patient. He’s a hard-driving young sociopath, blackmailed into doing some some corporate dirty-work because he covered up his own misdeeds inelegantly.
A car accident leaves him with his leg in a cast and his health in the care of increasingly creepy sanitarium staff.
Cure takes us out of modernity with the simple device of a train ride into a place in the Alps where there is no cell service.
Venture capital vampirism
Away from the boardroom and the Securities and Exchange Commission, hard-driving venture capitalists are at the strange, dark center of this gothic story. It’s an intriguing mix for a lot of reasons.
One thing that really drives this film forward is a steady stream of snippets, information bits that clue you in to this film’s panopoly of weird characters and their motives. The clues are not found as in a regular mystery, though. Here, characters just come out and deliver lines loaded with the information. The mystery is the least artful part of the film.
And this isn’t a mystery. It’s a surrealist work, communicating some of the anxieties of the modern age with images that a frequently unrelated.
There’s the almost obligatory Swiss Alps train reflected in its own side; the car ride up the mountain with void just to one side of the car. Verbinski, who serves as both the co-writer (with The Long Ranger’s Justin Haythe) and its visionary director, is careful to situate Lockhart’s frame of reference in the financial world. That explains the drop-off to the side of the train and the car might make us think of our own essential insecurity. Every horror film preys on certain atavistic fears: heights, spiders, snakes, fire, sex.
At one level, each stands for death. At another, we are left to witness the interplay of modern throw-away labor and the ultimate groundlessness of this journey up the hill.
The theme of rejecting capitalism is more or less explicit. Lockhart’s CEO left the rat race to reside full-time at the spa, an ominous letter detailing his disdain for that life. Everyone at the sanitarium has sinned, he says. They all have tremendous guilt to contemplate.
Meanwhile, the corpses pile up …
The treatments are not medicine. While patients do little but drink water, they grow ever more thirsty; the end of the road is death by dehydration.
Corpses like old mummies pile up in the aquifer. Everyone is losing their teeth; teeth are important to us. Without them we die – but at a primal level, teeth are our last line of defense. The toothless person is dying; the toothless person is powerless.
In this setting, the discovery of a young woman is a shock. The rest of the patients are rich and elderly. And this woman is at once a distraction and an enigma. We meet Hannah (Mia Goth) as Lockhart makes his first of several attempts to leave the sanitarium. She’s high up on a parapet, balanced over the road.
Youth and beauty, like wealth, offer little ground to stand on.
Will she fall?
There is a lot of nudity in this film.
Almost none of the nudity in this film is titillating, even thought there is a lot of it. Elderly bodies are on candid display. There is sex but it is in the first case it’s weird and creepy sex. In the second, it’s incestuous rage. And always, age and youth are in anxious juxtaposition.
Sex is the great taboo of the R rated horror film. Sex gets people killed. Our great human anxiety over the topic makes it easy to show nakedness in just a slightly off-kilter way to produce a sense of disquiet, of unease.
There’s nothing at all wrong with an elderly body but it’s a taboo; throw in some creepy music and a ton of medical equipment and things get quickly weird.
The ads for this film and most all reviews categorize this work as a psychological thriller.
Really, though, it’s a vampire movie in disguise.
Also, there are some inelegant explanations about water and some eels that seem to be present just to make you wonder if this is going to be tentacle porn. But no. This villain is a sophisticated modern vampire.
It works well at the surreal level. Steam from the water shrouds everything. Things move in the subconscious. The scenes are often discontinuous – a tooth drilled out in one scene is fine later on. The images of uncertainty and failure, the allegory of incest and vampirism, tell a complicated story about capitalism and its effects on real people that succeeds despite the plot problems. I recommend you see it.
For aNewDomain reviews, I’m Jason Dias.