“A Cure for Wellness” seems like the kind of movie that no one could figure out how to end. That might be because it is at least 10 movies in one, some of them ingenious parodies, but all adding up to a cluttered, confused anticlimax.
The director, Gore Verbinski, has attempted this kind of collage of homages before, with the animated critter western “Rango” (2011). Somehow he was able in that movie to fuse a myriad of allusions into a cohesive, hilarious, and powerful western classic in its own right. Here, though, he has let his mastery of styles and glossary of film influences lead him astray.
The arresting opening sequence is typical. A man toils before a computer screen alone after hours in a creepy office. Distorted angles, disorienting close-ups, and an eerie Italian horror movie-style soundtrack lead to a shockingly predictable conclusion that has little to do with what follows.
Instead, Verbinski switches to Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a weasely, ambitious office drone assigned by the company’s board of directors to travel to Switzerland to bring back Pembroke (Harry Groener), a bigwig who has holed up in a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps. Like Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now,” Pembroke has renounced his previous loyalties. Unlike Kurtz, he claims to have found a non-materialistic spirituality and attained peace by means of the spa’s therapeutic program and murky waters.
The spa is in a castle that is a Steampunker’s dream of a 1930s Warner Bros. horror movie set. Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) runs the place, and he and his sylph-like, strange daughter Hannah (Mia Goth) evoke Georges Franju’s “Eye’s Without a Face” (1960) when the film doesn’t drift off into Cronenberg territory or Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967). There’s even a copy of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” for the literary-minded, being read by an attendant masturbating in front of a topless nurse.
So what is the cure for wellness? It remains elusive, but the cure for this movie might be more clarity of purpose.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Verbinski and Justin Haythe. Starring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Harry Groener. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 146 minutes. R (disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language).