By: Glynis Neely
The last time Gore Verbinski immersed himself in the world of horror was with 2002’s The Ring, so I was really looking forward to his first venture in the genre for over a decade. The film is much more of a mystery/thriller than it is a traditional horror, though it does contain some creepy and unsettling moments. Henry Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a young corporate ladder-climber, is tasked with retrieving his law firm’s CEO, Mr. Pembroke (Harry Groener), from a remote treatment center in the Swiss Alps. Lockhart is wary of the patients and staff upon arrival of the place, but is determined to return with his charge. After an untimely car crash, he wakes up in the institution three days later with a cast on his broken leg. He meets the proprietor Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and is told he also needs the treatment offered there. He becomes immediately suspicious and starts looking into the labyrinthine facility for answers.
While wandering through the grounds and under the facility, the answers he finds aren’t exactly positive developments – for him or the audience. The film takes its time unraveling a tired and rote plot. Along the way, he meets mainly older patients who are in various stages of coherence; they are all there getting what the treatment center calls “the cure.” Then he happens upon a young girl named Hannah (Mia Goth) who has been living there for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t get “the cure” and instead takes a tincture from a bottle she wears around her neck. She doesn’t know much about why she’s there other than Dr. Volmer tells her that she is a “special case.” Lockhart is drawn to her and they develop a trust, though the two don’t have much chemistry from my perspective. Eventually, Lockhart himself is given “the cure” and loses himself in the depths of the facility until he has a chance to escape with Hannah in tow.
The performances were not altogether bad overall. DeHaan manages well, but Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island had to take on much the same role and he was far more convincing as a man coming unglued. Mia Goth does well with the material she is given, though admittedly it is not much. Isaacs is always welcome as the shady proprietor of the facility and Groener is excellent in the few scenes he is in, though he definitely could’ve been utilized more. (I expected him to break out in song, which would have been a welcome moment and brought some levity to the film.)
The set up of the film in the Swiss Alps is also a beautiful location. There are some truly striking visuals, including one from early on in the film of the side of a train as it passes through a mountain in the Alps. Much of the beauty of the film is squandered though with not much meaning behind its gorgeous images. With a running time of 2 hours and 26 minutes, I expected a lot more to happen within the span of the film. There was so much fat that could’ve been trimmed, but it was all left in to the detriment of the film. A three-beat set up early in the film isn’t completed until near the very end when it’s no longer interesting and its obvious how it is going to play out. I often felt like I knew what was going to happen next, and that usually takes me out of a film; I was very disappointed.
It’s clear from early on that Isaac’s Dr. Volmer is up to something sinister, but Lockhart does not take much action against him until the last half hour. Once it’s finally clear that Volmer is not who he says he is and in fact has been using the facility as a way to keep himself alive past his prime, the action starts to pick up. Then they reveal that his goal all along was just to impregnate his own daughter. If you were there, you could probably feel my eye roll. This boring trend in horror of keeping a woman locked up for the sole purpose of raping and impregnating her is overused and lazy storytelling. Just last week when I went to see Rings, the new reboot for the Verbinski series he remade over a decade ago, they pulled the same trick in their last half hour. From then on, I just couldn’t wait for it to be over and then finally it was.
When I first saw The Ring over a decade ago, I did not like it upon initial viewing; it took multiple screenings for it to grow on me. The enduring memory of the film for me is attributed mostly to Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography, who also lends his talents this time around to Wellness. I don’t think this film will have an impact in the long run, and I think it’s fair to say I won’t be seeing it again, but it does have its merits. The visual language is what captured my attention more than the story itself and it is those lingering images that I am left with after the film has ended.