A Cure for Wellness

Gore Verbinski‘s career has taken him all over the place, from romcom to horror to animation to big-budget blockbuster, and next year’s A Cure for Wellness sees him delving into psychological thriller. Dane DeHaan stars as an ambitious young exec who’s assigned to bring back the company CEO from a hydrotherapy spa in the Swiss Alps. At first, the place looks like a peaceful retreat, but when he gets stuck there himself, he realizes there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

At a press event earlier this month, 20th Century Fox treated us to the first 35 minutes or so of the movie, which looks intriguingly bizarre. Find out what we witnessed after the jump.

A Cure for Wellness Footage Recap

A Cure for Wellness opens on a generic scene of New York office buildings as a creepy song plays. It sounds kind of like one of those slowed-down covers we seem to get in every trailer these days, except that I didn’t recognize the song. Inside one of those buildings is a man working all by himself, late at night, on some kind of spreadsheet. He picks up and examines a letter with a wax seal bearing a stamp of two intertwined snakes (similar to the caduceus symbol for medicine). Not long after, he clutches his chest like he has heartburn or maybe even a heart attack. He stands up to get a glass of water and seems to feel better for a moment after drinking it… but then he topples over and dies.

We then cut to a train where Dane DeHaan’s character is working on his laptop. It’s clear he’s been sitting there for a while, because there are discarded wrappers and piles of papers all around him. A kid across the aisle looks at him and draws a devil in the fogged-up glass of the window.

A voiceover reflects on the human condition. “We are the only species capable of self-reflection,” it says. Meanwhile, we’re watching DeHaan settle into a corner office, apparently the one vacated by the man who died at the beginning of the movie. He celebrates his new office with some colleagues, but when his assistant comes to remind him that it’s his mom’s birthday he asks her to just pick something out and send it over. The voiceover continues: “There is a sickness within us, rising up like the bile that leaves a bitter taste in the back of our throats.”

That ominous voiceover turns out to have been the musings of company founder Roman E. Pembroke, as written in the sealed and stamped letter seen in that opening scene. DeHaan is reading it in a conference room, surrounded by other higher-ups within the company. Apparently, Pembroke went on a two-week spa vacation and had a breakdown, sending back this handwritten letter that sounds like a suicide note or a manifesto. And that’s a problem, because the board really needs Pembroke come back and sign off on a merger. After threatening to expose DeHaan for “irregularities” they found in the books, they decide he can repay them by going to Switzerland to retrieve Pembroke.

Before he goes, though, he stops in to see his mother, who’s in some sort of assisted living facility. She doesn’t seem to be all there, and she seems kind of sad, but DeHaan promises that once he comes back and gets a raise, he’ll move her somewhere nicer. He promises to come back and see her soon, but she says he won’t.

A Cure for Wellness

DeHaan winds up in Switzerland, where he’s being driven up a gorgeous mountainside to the spa, which is located in a castle. As they drive through one village, a local teenager throws something at the car, and the driver notes that there’s bad blood between the townspeople and the sanitarium. The driver explains that centuries ago, the sanitarium was owned by a nobleman who was so obsessed with keeping his bloodline pure, he decided the only one worthy of bearing his children would be his sister. But on their wedding night, the townspeople came and burned the bride to death, as well as the castle itself. It was only rebuilt later.

Once DeHaan arrives at the sanitarium, which specializes in hydrotherapy and seems to have a mostly elderly, wealthy clientele, he’s frustrated to realize he’s missed visiting hours. The head of the facility (Jason Isaacs) eventually agrees to let DeHaan return in a few hours to see Pembroke, so that DeHaan can take Pembroke back to the U.S. DeHaan and his driver head back down the mountain to wait, but en route they hit a stag and get into a horrific car crash.

Later, DeHaan wakes up in the sanitarium where he’s told he’s been unconscious for three days. He’s broken his leg, but otherwise he’s healthy. Isaacs insists he’s already called DeHaan’s office and explained the situation, and that DeHaan can stay until he’s recovered.

He heads out to explore the facility. After learning that Pembroke is scheduled to be in a steam bath, DeHaan heads there to find him. He enters an empty room full of steam, which leads to another empty room full of steam, and then another… but as he turns to leave he realizes he can’t find the exit. After a claustrophobic few moments, the hallway finally reveals itself to him, and in another room, a stag seems to walk by in the steam. DeHaan starts to find his way out and sees an old man sitting alone. The old man is Pembroke.

A Cure for Wellness - Dane DeHaan

A Cure for Wellness Footage Reaction

The first 35 minutes of A Cure for Wellness were more intriguing than exciting. They’re a slow burn, and nothing all that weird happened until the end of the footage we saw. Even then, it was more suggestive than outright crazy.

That said, there’s an uneasy vibe from the get-go. Something just seems off, even if it’s hard to articulate exactly why. There’s a Gothic fairy tale vibe to the footage — like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or like one of those Grimm fairy tales before we sanitized them for contemporary children. If you’ve ever seen a thriller, you know from the moment the main character wakes up with a broken leg at the sanitarium that leaving the place will be easier said than done.

The trailer we saw afterward suggests that things go seriously nuts after the point that we stopped watching, which really surprised me because little about the footage we’d seen up to that point suggested the film would be going in such a weird direction. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if it means that slow burn pays off with something really worth the wait.

***

A Cure for Wellness opens February 17, 2017.

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