Interview: Gore Verbinski On Returning To Horror With 'A Cure For Wellness'

Earlier this month, 20th Century Fox showed us the first 35 minutes of A Cure for Wellness, the psychological thriller that marks Gore Verbinski's return to horror for the first time since The Ring. The next day, I had the opportunity to sit down with the director and chat about what he likes about the genre, the inspirations behind his new movie, and just a little non-spoilery tease about what we can expect. Read our Gore Verbinski interview below. 

The Ring might honestly be the most scared I've ever been in a theater, so I was really excited to see you're returning to horror. What made you decide to come back to the genre?

Well, it's a genre where you get to play with sort of a dream logic. The rules don't apply. We're casting spells on people in a darkened room with sound and picture and music and performance. I wanted to explore this sort of sense of denial and the inevitable and that genre, it's where you get to be a voice. In this case, the voice of disease or sickness. The sense of something, there's a spot on your X-ray. There's a darkness here. In this wonderful place, there's something pulling the camera down a corridor and pulling the protagonist towards his epiphany and you sense that something deeper is driving things. You only saw the first 35 minutes, right?

Yes, sadly. I was into it and then it ended, and I was like, aw, where's the rest of it?

The little tune, you know, the tune that wafts in, Hannah's voice, it's almost like reaching, it's like a perfume bottle or something that's been opened.


Hannah's the girl...

Is that the character's name?

Oh, you haven't met Hannah. This is so hard, having an interview... Yeah, the sense of, that this letter has made it all the way to Manhattan to pull the protagonist to this place. You can do things like that without explaining them, you know? I think that Western narratives in general tend to kind of apply logic police. Everything has to be, well how does this work? How did that work? We let go in this genre, we open up more. Particularly when your protagonist is losing his purchase on reality, we get to be the untrustworthy narrator. It's all about keeping them off. Not knowing what's going to happen next. We're conducting a psychological experiment on the audience.

One thing you did really well in The Ring, and based on what we've seen of this movie so far you seem to do really well here, is that you seem to have a talent for crafting images will stay in the mind for a long time. Where do those ideas come from? How do you know what's going to work or what's not going to work?

I think that when you encounter a composition or an image that is clearly... There's a point where you can overdo it, you know? But when you encounter the right amount of everything has a purpose, you end up with a voice by default. There's a sense that there's a sure hand leading you into a darkened room. Even when the protagonist doesn't quite understand or the audience isn't quite sure what's happening, there's the power of enigma. It makes you work a different muscle in your brain, like, wait, what's happening now? You sense that there's a purpose to things but you can't quite understand what that purpose is. As soon as your brain starts thinking about that, we've opened a door. You've opened a door and you're letting us in. At the same time, just by virtue of having to concentrate, it's not just pizza that you eat and forget about. We're trying to prepare a meal that you're going to remember.

A Cure for Wellness - Dane DeHaanWhere exactly did this idea come from? How did this whole project get started?Justin Haythe (the writer) and I, we just sort of talked about what we wanted to do next and batting around a lot of ideas.What was the concept you came in with? What made you decide this was what you definitely wanted to do next?

Well, there's this book by Thomas Mann called The Magic Mountain that we're both fans of, and that book deals with people in a sanitarium in the Alps, clutching on to their sickness like a badge before the outbreak of World War I. We wanted to explore this sense of denial and say, well, what if that was a genre? What if we splice that into a more decidedly goth — made it contemporary, made it gothic, and explored this idea of sickness as a form of absolution? If you have a note from doctor, then you're not responsible. Because you're not well. And a place where we put all these CEOs and who by their very nature of succeeding have crushed skulls to get ahead, have made tough decisions — they're leaders of industry, and they end up at this place where the doctor says, we've all done terrible things but none of that matters because you're not responsible, because you're not well.

You know, it's the great con, right? You know, you're not well, but there's a cure. So you're going to be caught in that loop. Saying, I'm here, but there's hope, right? So you're bleeding out with an internal sense of, I'm getting better, I'm getting better, just a few more weeks, just a few more weeks. It's lotus-eaters. Or it's an opiate drip.

That denial, that sense of, there's a wonderful place, you know? It's a health spa. Who doesn't like to put on a nice comfy robe and slip into a warm bath? But when you put a razor blade next to the bathtub, it changes the meaning completely. I think to pervert and corrupt that sort of tranquility, or to at least say, look, the thing about denial is, that inevitability keeps marching forward. The truth keeps marching on. And I think as a society, we live in a time where we are perhaps in denial. We understand history, we understand how the world works, and yet we're sort of driving a car into a tree and we can't turn the wheel. I think when the genre is elevated, it usually taps into some palpable feeling. Not as a social commentary, but just as a feeling. You take it home. Three days later, you're still affected by that feeling in a subconscious way.

Well, yesterday we saw the first 35 minutes, and they're kind of a slow burn.

Yeah, things were just starting to happen.

Right. And then they showed us the trailer, and it's just like, what happened? Can you talk a little bit about what we can expect? Can you tease a little bit of what's to come?

Yeah, I think we are slow-cooking the audience. We're putting you on a stove and we're turning up the heat. Can I tell you what's to come... well, God, I really don't want to do that.

I don't want you to give away any spoilers and I understand why you wouldn't want to. But what can we expect?

I think we've set out to... Next time you take a steam or get a massage, I hope you have second thoughts.


A Cure for Wellness is in theaters February 17, 2017.