A Cure for Wellness

A Cure for Wellness is self-indulgent, far too long and wildly overblown, but I still liked it a great deal.


It's about Lockhart, a young executive at a financial services company. He's sent to retrieve Pembroke, an errant board member currently having a nervous breakdown in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps.

When Lockhart arrives at the hospital he finds it unnerving and dreamlike, with Pembroke nowhere to be seen. After he breaks his leg the charismatic head doctor, Volmer, presses treatment on him. He eventually finds Pembroke but leaving the sanatorium is harder than it looks.

At least two sections should have ended up on the cutting room floor - one where Lockhart receives treatment in a tank which is infested by eels, the other where there's a montage of two characters descending into water. The eely tank has a digressive quality and adds nothing to the narrative. The montage is badly edited and melodramatic.

The climax was inflated to the point you worried it might burst all over you - effective in a way I suppose.

But there's still a lot to admire and enjoy. Dane DeHaan is brilliant as Lockhart. Mia Goth, who plays a frail young woman floating around the hospital, is exceptional. The dynamic between these two characters, and in particular their adventure in the village beyond the sanatorium walls, had me totally convinced.

The location - an abandoned hospital once used by senior Nazis - is spectacular. It was restored for the film and, I imagine, spruced up with CGI. The visual poetry of its swirling staircases, endless corridors and shining tiles is a great cinematic experience.

I loved the contrast between the US and Europe, too. The beginning of the film situates us in the merciless world of capitalism. Both we and Lockhart know this world well - nothing matters but money and the next deal. But when Lockhart gets to the Swiss Alps he's suddenly plunged into history and it feels deliciously odd after the first portion. Never mind that Volmer simultaneously channels psychoanalysis and Nazism (the former was actually chased out of Europe by the latter). Volmer's a composite of everything people think is weird about Europe and I enjoyed the extravagance of that.

There's a remarkable film inside A Cure for Wellness. What we've been given is long and slow and less remarkable. But it's still well worth watching.