There has been a death in the office of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), last night one of the executives who was working late was attending to his mail when he noticed a distinctive envelope with a wax seal, but minutes after handling it he began to feel unwell. Going over to the water cooler for a drink, he collapsed and died, news that reaches Lockhart the next day when he is called into his bosses' boardroom and asked some very serious questions such as "How would you like to go to prison?" They have discovered evidence of his corruption and are using it to blackmail him: basically, the business is in a critical state, so either he takes the fall or finds the man who can in his place...
To do that, our hero (who starts out as an antihero) must travel to Switzerland and an exclusive clinic there, where Pembroke (Harry Groener), the man responsible for the calamity at the company, has run off for treatment for a condition they believe is entirely fictional. All Lockhart has to do is travel to this old castle and persuade him in no uncertain terms that he is needed back home, then and only then will the business survive the investigation into it - and the junior exec won't go to jail. But when he arrives in this Alpine region, he finds more than he bargained for, in fact he finds he is in a Mario Bava movie, only the true horror is that it is not directed by Bava, but by Gore Verbinski.
He's in a remake of Baron Blood, essentially, one of the lesser thought of chillers in the great Italian fantasist's canon, so it was less of an issue to watch a Hollywood redo than maybe one of his classics. With that in mind, it was worth observing that Verbinski was not prepared to do anything by halves, and really committed to delivering on the wilder aspects of the outlandish plot, a mixture of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Last Year at Marienbad, any shocker based in a sinister sanatorium, and a bunch of European works in this vein, a Hammer horror tone notable; heck, there was even a bit of The Phantom of the Opera in there for the grand finale. By this stage in the genre, often out of Hollywood, there were a lot of influences worn on a lot of sleeves.
Sadly, even with what was a high gloss on the ghastliness, A Cure for Wellness did not find its audience when it was released in the cinemas, and the attempts to make a mainstream movie star out of the sarcastic-cherub-faced DeHaan once again floundered, his second big budget flop in a matter of months. But he was pretty well cast here, not necessarily playing a likeable man yet we warm to him thanks to the ordeal Lockhart endures the further he uncovers what it happening at the clinic. It was a hard road to travel to generate audience sympathy, and for many it was evidently not enough, but he was fine in the role, altering from an entitled capitalist to a more generous view of his fellow man, ironically after experiencing them at their worst; he was supported by Jason Isaacs as the smooth villain and Mia Goth as the damsel in distress.
Isaacs was a lot of devilish fun as the mad doctor who, as it transpires, is using his own breed of eels to bring about his cure for all ailments that may well work for nobody but himself, and Goth was appropriately wide-eyed as the innocent victim with a horrible secret she is unaware of, in fact every actor made a decent fist of their hard to read menace, some more overtly than others. When Lockhart is trapped in the castle after breaking his leg in a car accident while leaving on the twisty mountain roads, he twigs his treatment is not doing him much benefit, so commences his investigations as to what is really going on, his access to Pembroke eliciting naught but gnomic pronouncements from the man, that's when he manages to catch up with him as the staff seem dedicated to make things as difficult as possible for the would-be corporate shark. It had to be said, there was probably a lot more of this than was strictly necessary, for you got the message something dreadful was up early on and the rest of the two-hours-plus merely confirmed your suspicions, but if you appreciated a journey more than a destination, this was stylish and diverting. Music by Benjamin Wallfisch.
Born Gregor Verbinski, this visually inventive director got his start in advertising before making his feature debut in 1997 with the anarchic comedy Mousehunt. He helmed the critically-maligned thriller The Mexican and hit horror remake The Ring, while swashbuckling epic Pirates of the Caribbean, with Johnny Depp, spawned a multi-million dollar franchise. He left that after the third instalment to make his first animation, the comedy Western Rango which he followed with a live action one, mega-flop The Lone Ranger, then another flop, the horror remake A Cure for Wellness. Verbinski was also creator of Budweiser's frog TV ad campaign.