Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Cure For Wellness (4 Stars)

This is a film that's been savaged by the critics, but friends of mine who saw the film in England last month highly recommended it, so I had a choice. Do I listen to highly devoted film fans or the narrow-minded critics? That's a rhetorical question. I arrived at the cinema with my money in my hand.

The film begins in New York, but after the introductory scenes it continues in Switzerland. Roland Pembroke, the CEO of a large finance company, has gone to spend a few weeks in a health spa in Switzerland. The board of directors waits patiently for him to return, but they receive a letter from him -- a hand-written letter, not an email -- that he intends to remain in the health spa indefinitely. That raises panic, because they need his signature to agree to a merger. The board decides to send a young executive, Mr. Lockhart (whose first name is never disclosed), to persuade him to return.

And so Lockhart heads to the Swiss Alps, where he finds the spa housed in a castle on a mountain. The suspicious villagers who lived at the foot of the mountain already gave me a clue about what was to come. On his arrival Lockhart is obstructed in his attempts to speak to Mr. Pembroke. He decides to stay overnight at a hotel in the village, but on the way his taxi collides with a deer. He wakes up in the health spa three days later with his leg in a plaster cast. The head of the spa, Dr. Vollmer, offers to let him stay until his leg has healed. Lockhart agrees, but as he gets to know the other residents at the health spa he becomes aware of one fact: nobody ever leaves.

The film is delightful in many ways. The first half of the film is a Kafkaesque nightmare. Lockhart is repeatedly told that he's a patient in the spa, not a prisoner, but whenever he attempts to leave there are obstructions. It's also a mystery, as Lockhart tries to unveil the reason why nobody wants to leave. Then there's a horror story about the Baron who lived in the castle 200 years ago, a mad scientist who performed experiments on living humans to cure his wife's infertility. All the different stories intertwine to form a whole.

A few small facts detract from the overall quality. There are some unnecessary subplots. The opening scene with Morris, another company executive, dying of a heart attack, is superfluous to the story, and is only briefly mentioned later on. Lockhart's mother's psychic abilities add nothing to the story. The illegal dealings of Lockhart's company are also irrelevant. "A Cure For Wellness" has a running time of 146 minutes, and I have nothing against long films in principle, but if the unnecessary scenes were cut it would shorten the film and make the story much tighter.

The critics are wrong. It isn't a bad film, but it could have been better.

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