A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Director Gore Verbinski does his best David Cronenberg imitation in the Kafkaesque “A Cure for Wellness.”

In a roller coaster career of genre filmmaking, Tennessee native director Gore Verbinski, came to prominence by directing the American remake of the hit Japanese cult horror film, “The Ring” (2002), before delivering one of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003). Following up that global hit with two sequels, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2005) and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2006), Verbinski’s meteoric rise was cut short when he took the brunt of the blame for “The Lone Ranger” (2013), one of the biggest and most expensive Hollywood flops of all time.

Over the course of a 15 year filmmaking career, the man has seen the highest peaks and the lowest valleys of the Hollywood landscape.

Maybe the colossal failure of “The Lone Ranger” gave Verbinski the excuse to get off the summer movie formula factory line and just get plain weird. According to his IMDb bio, Verbinski is a former punk rock guitar player who grew up obsessed with Franz Kafka, and these outsider influences are on full display in his new, incredibly strange horror film, “A Cure for Wellness.”

Dane DeHaan, one of the more interesting upcoming actors of his generation, plays a young corporate executive named Lockhart who is called into a boardroom meeting to read a letter from the company’s missing CEO. It seems the boss might have lost his mind while staying at a mysterious retreat in the Swiss Alps, and the company needs him back as soon as possible or they stand to lose billions of dollars in an upcoming merger.

Lockhart accepts the mission to travel to the secretive health clinic located in a sprawling Gothic castle in the snowy mountains to find his potentially mentally ailing boss and bring him back in time for the corporate sharks to line their pockets.

Verbinski at first seems to be engaging in a Kafkaesque critique of the modern corporate culture of greed and blind ambition, a sickness that has become normalized in the guise of DeHaan’s snarky young protagonist. When Lockhart arrives at the castle he is met with a staff of glazed faced automatons who stymie his attempts to reach his employer through an endless series of regulations, rules and uninterruptible therapy sessions.

When Lockhart decides to take a car back to town to await an audience with the resident Doctor Volmer (Jason Isaacs), he becomes the victim of a freak accident that lands him as a patient in the facility himself where he finds himself now subject to the same “treatment” of the other, mostly elderly and wealthy, patients.

From here it gets really, really weird and it would be a crime to spoil the labyrinth of dark secrets and Cronenberg-esque body horror that Lockhart must endure as he seeks to unravel the mystery of the goings on inside this castle in the mountains. Lockhart’s only sympathetic friend comes in the form of a mysterious, almost ghost-like girl who roams the castle’s grounds and claims to have spent her entire life in the facility.

The narrative takes perhaps a few too many twists and turns in its admittedly longish two-and-a-half hour run-time, not all of the threads leading to satisfying conclusions, some of them dropped completely. Not everyone will be equally entertained and intrigued by the ultimate reveal, but Verbinski conjures a beautifully shot journey into altered states of reality punctuated by scenes of grotesque shocks to the system.

In the end, in spite of the levels and sub-levels of weirdness, “A Cure for Wellness” could be viewed as a Cronenberg-styled interpretation of a black-and-white Universal Monster movie; a mad scientist’s concoction of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “The Phantom of the Opera” slathered in cynical modern social commentary. In any case, you’re not likely to see anything else this bizarre and off kilter in the multiplex this year.

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