A functionary is sent by his firm to do business at a remote mountain castle, and he soon finds himself in over his head. This plot set-up makes for a snappy opening to “Dracula,” but it’s decidedly less effective in “A Cure for Wellness,” an atmospheric but overlong horror film about the nefarious goings-on behind the scenes at a chic, exclusive spa.
It will come as no surprise that Gore Verbinski, the director behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “The Lone Ranger,” continues to lack all sense of proportion. But even when working with an original story (from screenwriter Justin Haythe, “Snitch”) and without Johnny Depp, Verbinski continues to believe that more is more.
By the end of the seemingly interminable 146 minutes of “A Cure for Wellness,” audiences will have already guessed the story’s ultimate twists, although by that point it’s quite likely they will have long since ceased to care either way.
It’s certainly a handsome film, with the art directors and set designers and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (“Pete’s Dragon”) leading us into ever more nefarious nooks and crannies of this sinister sanitarium, but this flaccid big-budget affair starts to resemble one of those cheap old Roger Corman movies where Jack Nicholson would wander endlessly up and down hallways just to pad the running time.
What’s more annoying is that Verbinski wants to frighten us not just with a hit parade of phobias — drowning and dentistry among them — but also with bodies that fail to live up to the usual Hollywood paradigm. When we’re shown someone who happens to be old, or overweight, or even a little saggy, it’s clear the movie expects us to be repulsed by the realities of humanity.
The aforementioned functionary is Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a hungry young Wall Street type who’s sent by his board of directors to fetch Pembroke (Harry Groener, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) from the mysterious Swiss spa that the CEO apparently has no intention of leaving. Here, DeHaan is as pallid and peevish as a Kafka hero, and it’s easy to relate to his frustration as the facility’s staff, led by Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), continually gives him the run-around.
On his way back down the mountain, Lockhart gets into a car accident, forcing him to stay at the retreat to recover. In between attempts to get close to Pembroke, he gets to know some of the other patients, including the crossword-loving Victoria (Celia Imrie, “Absolutely Fabulous”) and young Hannah (Mia Goth, “Everest”) who’s apparently spent most of her life at the clinic.
We get a few effective set pieces early on that provide the requisite scares that “A Cure for Wellness” so obviously wants to deliver, but the movie just doesn’t know when to quit, lurching onward and growing more and more ludicrous. (By the time we get hospital employees waltzing around a dance floor in flowing white gowns, oblivious to the curtains being on fire, it may be hard to suppress church giggles.)
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 be head for the exits.