Gore Verbinski’s gothic thriller A Cure for Wellness could carry any number of trigger warnings — for geriatric nudity, sexual assault, medical gore, violence … and eels. This film might have supplanted The Tin Drum for Most Disturbing Scene With Eels. Actually, scenes. Eels really are the sine non qua of this film.
The basic plot is familiar: A New York investment banker named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) travels to a remote sanitarium in Switzerland to retrieve a colleague. The castle-like facility is both alluring and creepy. He tries to leave but can’t. Things get creepier. People drink a lot of water. He meets an alluring and creepy girl (Mia Goth). He does some exploring in the basement. Things get still creepier. More weird stuff with glasses of water, steam rooms and the toilets. And why does the facility’s main gate feature intertwined eels?
The first half of the film sets up some nice intrigue at a pleasantly languid pace, but then the experience grows frustrating. The plot has more twists and turns than … yes, an eel! And the more the story zigs and zags, the less sense it makes. It also never seems to end, offering several scenes that seem like definitive wrap-ups, but then — another swish, another scene!
On the positive side, this film is gorgeous to look at. The production design is top-notch, and I loved every square inch of the retro-ish tiled sanitarium, with its fresh cut flowers, enameled beds and attendants in crisp white smocks. The alpine location is divine (shot in Germany). And the cinematography, which favors super close-ups, reflective surfaces and lots of eyeballs, is effective for mood-setting, despite being clichéd. If only this film were 30 minutes shorter, and had a more coherent plot. Also, fewer eels. Starts Fri., Feb. 24.