'A Cure For Wellness' could cure insomnia

A Cure for Wellness functions very effectively as a cure for insomnia.

I probably won’t be the only person to make this joke, but I found it impossible not to rise to the pun-bait title (I usually do) after sitting through a movie so relentlessly long and so punishingly dull.

And humorless, which is a bit of surprise coming from director Gore Verbinski, who made Pirates of the Caribbean, a movie that so effectively combined elements of horror and comedy.

Wellness, meant to be a horror movie, is about as funny as a heart attack -- as it happens, the event that opens the film. A man works alone in an office, clutches his chest, and drops dead. The camera pulls back, wanders down the hallway, and stops to stare at a portrait of the deceased -- he’s just been named Salesman of the Year. It's a darkly funny moment that seems to promise equally dark commentary on corner-office striving, but don't get your hopes up.

 

The firm’s chairman has gone AWOL -- his vacation at a Swiss sanatorium has become a permanent stay. He’s sent letters to his senior staff, denouncing the materialism of corporate life, and stating his intention to drop out.

One of the letters goes to a callow hustler named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who’s sent by management to the Alps to retrieve the boss, so he can sign off on a merger that will enrich all parties involved, and blot out illegalities committed by Lockhart and others.

So off he goes, ending up at the facility -- a centuries-old castle run by a doctor (Jason Isaacs) who has a Germanic accent and deploys the sort of dentistry we haven’t seen since Marathon Man.

OK, we’re all scared of having our teeth drilled by a Nazi, but how do you feel about eels?

The castle is infested with them, and A Cure for Wellness banks on us reeling in terror every time we see them swimming in a toilet, or writhing about the body of a naked woman in a bathtub.

My reaction was to snag a couple and go striper fishing.

Anyway, Verbinski presses on with his handsomely photographed atmospherics. Lockhart becomes a de facto prisoner of the place, and looks out his bedroom window at night to see bald henchmen dragging corpses into a dungeon. Faces disappear from windows. Girlish voices sing creepy lullabies on the soundtrack. In the basement there are deformed embryos suspended in formaldehyde, which is either evidence of some horrifying feudal curse, or the Mutter museum.

I’m not sure what Verbinski was after here -- a glimpse at oppressive European feudalism as a template for modern finance and rule by the 1 percent?

Hard to detect coherent ideas, or even a pulse. 


A Cure for Wellness

Directed by Gore Verbinski. With Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Running time: 2 hours, 26 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language).