A Cure for Wellness is a 2016 science fiction horror film directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Justin Haythe, and starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, and Mia Goth. Its plot follows a young executive who is sent to retrieve a colleague from a mysterious rehabilitation center in the Swiss Alps.
An international co-production based in the United States, Germany, and Luxembourg, the film was shot on location at various German locations, including Hohenzollern Castle in Baden-Württemberg. Its screenplay, written by Haythe, is based on a story co-written by Haythe and Verbinski, who were both inspired by Thomas Mann‘s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Promotion and release
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
At a large financial services firm in New York City, an ambitious young executive named Lockhart is sent by the company board of directors to retrieve Roland Pembroke, the company’s CEO who had abruptly decided to stay at a “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps. The board needs Pembroke to sign off on an upcoming merger. The company is being investigated for criminal misconduct, and several self-serving partners hope to place all of the blame squarely upon Pembroke. Lockhart arrives at the spa, but he is met with resistance by the staff and Dr. Heinreich Volmer in attempting to speak with Pembroke.
Lockhart leaves but is involved in a car accident and supposedly awakens three days later at the center with his leg in a plaster cast. Curiously, in spite of the truly horrendous nature of the accident, both he and the driver suffer from no other injuries but a minor scratch or two. During his time at the spa, Lockhart meets a mysterious young girl named Hannah, who, among others, doses herself with a mysterious fluid kept in a small, cobalt-colored bottle.
A patient named Victoria Watkins, as well as residents of the nearby town, regale a fascinated Lockhart with the history of the spa. It was built on the ruins of a castle once owned by a baron roughly 200 years ago. The baron desired an heir of pure blood and married his sister. When the baron learned she was infertile, he began performing hellish experiments on the peasants in order to find a way to cure her infertility. He succeeded, but after finding the carelessly buried bodies of his victims, the peasants stormed the castle and set it on fire.
The baron’s pregnant sister was captured by the peasants and the baby was cut from her womb before she was burned. Although the peasants tossed the baby into the local aquifer, it somehow survived. Lockhart attempts to escape the center but finds that no one is allowed to leave. After gifting Hannah a ballerina figurine, Lockhart bikes into town with her help. Lockhart leaves Hannah in a bar and seeks out a translator for Pembroke’s German-language medical dossier.
He finds out that the people of the spa suffer from dehydration despite the quantities of water they imbibe from the aquifer. Meanwhile, Hannah, who has been kept at the spa her entire life, explores the bar and attracts the attention of the locals. Lockhart returns and gets into a fight with a man who was dancing with Hannah. He is rescued by Dr. Volmer, who has discovered that Lockhart had left the spa with Hannah. Everyone in the place is curiously cowed by Dr. Volmer.
Lockhart investigates his suspicions and discovers the transfusion wing of the spa is a front for macabre medical experiments. The water from the local aquifer possesses unique properties. It is very toxic to humans but has life restoring properties for the eels living in the water. The baron had devised a process to filter the water through the bodies of humans and distill it into a life giving essence. Volmer uses the patients as filters for this process.
This “cure” is ingested by Hannah, Volmer, and his staff in order to gain vastly lengthened lifespans. Lockhart also realizes that his leg isn’t broken and that he is being forcefully kept prisoner there. Volmer then subjects Lockhart to nightmarish treatments that warp his mind until he believes he is insane. Hannah perceives this change and gives Lockhart back the ballerina that was given to Lockhart by his mother. This act helps to break him out of his delirium.
Around this time, Hannah has her first menstruation, and Volmer marries her. During the reception, he leads Hannah to a secret room built in the ruins of the castle and attempts to rape her. When Lockhart confronts Volmer he realizes that Volmer is the baron and Hannah is his daughter, the baby who was thrown into the well. They both had been aging very slowly due to the “cure”. In the ensuing fight, Volmer’s face is revealed to be a mask that hides his hideous burns. Lockhart sets Volmer and the castle on fire but is overpowered by Volmer all the same.
Hannah saves Lockhart by killing her father. He falls backwards into the aquifer and is eaten by the furiously voracious eels. Lockhart and Hannah escape from the premises on her bicycle as fire engulfs the structure. Not far down the road, Lockhart crashes into a car carrying his employers. They have arrived from New York to retrieve him and Pembroke. Lockhart is ordered into the car by the employers. They hope to make him the corporate scapegoat in lieu of the missing Pembroke. Lockhart instead chooses to ride away with Hannah while sporting a strange, wicked grin on his face.
- Dane DeHaan as Lockhart
- Douglas Hamilton as 9-year old Lockhart
- Jason Isaacs as Dr. Heinreich Volmer/Baron von Reichmerl
- Mia Goth as Hannah von Reichmerl
- Harry Groener as Roland Pembroke
- Celia Imrie as Victoria Watkins
- Adrian Schiller as Deputy Director
- Ivo Nandi as Enrico
- Ashok Mandanna as Ron Nair
- Tomas Norström as Frank Hill
- David Bishins as Hank Green
- Carl Lumbly as Wilson
- Lisa Banes as Hollis
- Godehard Giese as Prim Technician
- Magnus Krepper as Pieter The Vet
- Tom Flynn as Humphrey
- Eric Todd as Josh
- Jason Babinsky as Carl
- Johannes Krisch as Caretaker
- Rebecca Street as Lockhart’s Mother
- Bert Tischendorf as Lockhart’s Father
- Jeff Burrell as Funeral Director
- Angelina Häntsch as Volmer Institute Staff
- Annette Lober as Volmer Institute Staff
- Christian Brauer as Technician
- Thomas Richter as Water Trainer
- Chris Huszar as Wedding Guest
- Marko Buzin as Wedding Guest
The screenplay for A Cure for Wellness was written by Justin Haythe, and based on a story conceived by Haythe and Verbinski, who were both inspired by the 1924 Thomas Mann novel The Magic Mountain. The central plot of Mann’s novel also involves a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps.
Principal photography for the film began on June 22, 2015 and took place mainly at Babelsberg Studio (co-producer) in Potsdam, Germany. Another great part of the film was shot at former royal Hohenzollern Castle, in the German municipality of Bisingen. The castle was closed to the public for filming from July 13 to July 24, 2015. Aside from Hohenzollern, parts of the film were also shot in Saxony-Anhalt and Zella-Mehlis, Germany. An abandoned hospital in Beelitz-Heilstätten, Germany, served as a location for many of the hospital interiors. The film received funds of €8.1 million, from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), as well as €500,000 from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg.
The water tank scenes took two weeks to film. DeHaan and the director communicated through an intercom, and DeHaan wore a buoyancy and body-positioning waist harness connected with wires and an oxygen tank.
The directors used a rubber drill in the scene where Dr. Brennan, the facility’s dentist, drills through Mr. Lockhart’s healthy tooth without anesthesia. According to DeHaan, he was genuinely nervous and his reaction was used in the filming. Verbinski stated that the scene had compositing, and DeHaan stated there was no outright CGI. DeHaan filmed the scene while wearing a dental gag and strapped to the chair.
In the car crash scene, DeHaan was placed into a harness inside a device described by Bryan Alexander of USA Today as being similar to a rotisserie before being tossed around. DeHaan stated that he experienced his sole filming injury there, in which his arm was dislocated from and then relocated into the socket in its shoulder.
The German actors used in the scene in which Lockhart is assaulted by elderly people had no prior experience in film acting. Alexander wrote that this scene “wasn’t as torturous as it appears.”
Promotion and release
The film premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas on December 10, 2016, as part of the Butt-Numb-A-Thon Film Festival. It subsequently received a theatrical release in the United States on February 17, 2017, by 20th Century Fox, after initially being slated for a September 23, 2016 release date.
In the United States, 20th Century Fox premiered a 40-second exclusive commercial during the 51st Super Bowl on February 5, 2017, which resembled a medication advertisement. An article in Vulture reviewed the television commercial, which noted: “This spot that aired during the Super Bowl tonight may have tricked you into thinking you were just watching a regular commercial for some terrible new medication, probably not approved by the FDA. But it turned out you were watching a trailer for a new supernatural horror film.”
Two days before the film’s U.S. premiere, The New York Times reported that 20th Century Fox had created a group of fake news sites as part of a viral marketing campaign for A Cure for Wellness. The film trailer also gained media attention for showing a scene where Mia Goth was in a bathtub full of eels.
A Cure for Wellness grossed $8.1 million in the United States and Canada and $18.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $26.5 million, against a production budget of $40 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film was initially projected to gross $6–8 million from about 2,700 theaters in its opening weekend. However, after making just $300,000 from Thursday night previews and $1.5 million on its first day, weekend projections were lowered to $4 million. It ended up debuting to $4.2 million, finishing 10th at the box office.
In its third week of release the film was pulled from 97.8% of theaters (2,704 to 88) and grossed just $31,347, marking the second largest third-week theater drop in history (just ahead of the 2,659 theater decrease set by Live by Night two months prior).
A Cure for Wellness received mixed reviews from critics, with praise for its visuals, performances and ambition, but criticism for its length, plot and structure. Critics have noted the film’s Lovecraftian elements. On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 42% based on 170 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “A Cure for Wellness boasts a surfeit of visual style, but it’s wasted on a derivative and predictable story whose twists, turns, and frights have all been more effectively dealt before.” On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a score of 47 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “C+” on an A+ to F scale.
A.O. Scott of The New York Times compared the film to works by Martin Scorsese and Guillermo Del Toro, adding: “It’s all in good fun, really, though two and a half hours may be more of this kind of fun than a body can stand. You might feel like you’re in the company of a manic cinephile friend breathlessly recounting his favorite movie scenes in no particular order. You admire his devotion, his taste and his scholarship, but in the end the experience is probably more satisfying for him than it is for you.” Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film’s first hour “sustains a creepy, clammy tension that draws you along without quite accelerating into outright terror,” but concluding: “The terrors we see in A Cure for Wellness are never as scary as they are beautiful, but they are never so beautiful as they are arbitrary.”
The New Republic‘s Josephine Livingstone criticized the film’s conclusion: “The poor ending is a great shame. For Verbinski calls upon a great pantheon of stories in order to talk about daddy issues, yes, but more importantly to talk about capitalism. In the movie, two strains of moneymaking compete. Financial services go up against the wellness industry in a fully binaristic duel: city versus mountaintop, suit versus white coat, aggression versus docility. Both industries exploit those they profit from, and A Cure for Wellness is at its best when showing how contemporary philosophies of “health and wealth” are, at base, all the same old sin.” Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times was critical of the film’s runtime, noting: “If Verbinski could have trimmed about an hour from the film (which weighs in at a portly 146 minutes), he might have had something… [it] looks terrific — clearly money was spent on production values, which is always a pleasant surprise in a non-franchise film…And the first half of the film nicely creates a squirmy, elegant tension.” Tim Holland of TV Guide awarded the film three out of five stars, writing:
A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski’s eerie and atmospheric new horror film, looks like something supreme schlockmeister Roger Corman might have produced back in the day–if he’d been handed a boatload of cash and was given a green light to spend it on just one picture, that is. And that’s meant as a compliment: This movie is a demented riff on notable psychological thrillers like The Shining, Shutter Island, and The Phantom of the Opera, and it tosses in the most disturbing dental-work scene since Laurence Olivier did squirm-inducing things to Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. It’s certainly the most deliriously deranged picture you’re likely to see this year.
Writing for TheWrap, Alonso Duralde praised the film’s production design but criticized its narrative, saying: “While the movie is about people who are happy to remain removed from the world, not realizing that they are involved in something truly dreadful, many viewers will be all too willing to head for the exits.”
The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD in North America (Region A) by 20th Century Fox on June 6, 2017. The Blu-ray release features a deleted sequence, featurettes, and theatrical trailers as bonus materials, as well as digital and DVD copies.
- The Magic Mountain, a novel by Thomas Mann.
- The Institute, a 2017 horror film with a similar premise.
- Ptolemaic dynasty – a real-life series of rulers, many of whom were men who married their own sisters, or women who married their own brothers