Don’t drink the water. It’s sound advice when visiting foreign countries, and it could have saved the characters in A Cure for Wellness quite a bit of trouble.
Rich in atmosphere but poor in substance, this slow-burning psychological thriller from director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) winds up more tedious than terrifying.
The film follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a young executive at an American company on the cusp of a merger, who is dispatched to Europe to retrieve the firm’s troubled CEO (Tom Flynn) from a sanitarium in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.
When he arrives, Lockhart finds his mission complicated by some strange happenings at the facility, exacerbated by a car accident that turns him from a short-term visitor into a long-term patient. Still haunted by nightmares from his own past, he becomes suspicious of the head doctor (Jason Isaacs) and his connection to a strange girl (Mia Goth) who receives special treatment.
The doctor convinces the patients to constantly drink water that supposedly comes from an aquifer and has accelerated healing powers. But Lockhart is skeptical and winds up in a fight for his life as he pieces together the truth.
For a while, the film puts a fresh spin on territory that’s familiar — to those who’ve seen Shutter Island, most notably — with its appropriately claustrophobic setting and its random hallucinations and incidents of bizarre behavior that blur fantasy and reality.
Verbinski (who helmed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) deserves credit for his stylish visual approach that peppers the material with unsettling imagery that largely refrains from cheap thrills and over-reliance on special effects.
The screenplay by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) provides some clever twists and character quirks that keep things interesting for a while before turning into a rambling, self-indulgent genre exercise in the final hour that might elicit fewer scares and more snickers. In particular, the creepy low-key mystery runs off the rails with an incoherent finale that clouds character motives and drains much of the suspense preceding it.
DeHaan (Chronicle) offers a compelling portrayal, although his efforts are stifled by a project that seems more intent on visual rather than visceral frights. By the end, A Cure for Wellness might drive you insane.