Even in downtown New York, a water cooler full of eels is not something you see every day. The container of slithery, snaky fish had been placed in the corner of the room, next to the lunch buffet. Squirmy and squirm-making as it was, the decor was horrifyingly appropriate for A Cure for Wellness, a contemporary gothic fairytale of a film which does for all things aquatic what Hitchcock did for all things avian.
The film is a welcome return to horror for director Gore Verbinski. Since directing The Ring, the US adaptation of the Japanese supernatural horror film, in 2002, he is best known for launching a franchise based on a Disney theme park attraction, directing the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films.
A Cure for Wellness, an original story which Verbinski co-wrote with novelist Justin Haythe, is a very different kind of ride. “Horror is the one genre where you can get away with perpetrating crimes on the audience,” Verbinski says.
The film follows a rising executive named Lockhart (a cadaverously pale Dane DeHaan) who finds himself on an unexpected holiday at a sanatorium at the base of the Swiss Alps. His laptop is dead, his phone has no reception, his watch has stopped and, all around, elderly guests in cream robes indulge in hydrotherapy treatments: saunas, steam rooms, aqua-aerobics, immersion baths. But what starts off seeming like an idyllic paradise gradually becomes more sinister. The sanatorium has a dark history involving incest and a deadly fire, and there is something not right about the cool, clear water everyone is gulping down. Eels are most certainly involved.
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