Gore Verbinski has directed some pretty great movies. I know that isn’t the strongest way to start this thing but I had no idea he was the one behind this movie until the closing credits so I just wanted to give him immediate props. From the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, Rango, The Ring and the underrated film The Weather Man, Verbinski has proven himself to be a strong talent behind the camera especially when it comes to some of his amazing knack for visuals. While he excels at fantastic large-scale visuals, he’s also proven to be quite adept at subtlety as in the aforementioned The Weather Man. Had I known that Verbinski had directed this film then perhaps my hopes would have been up further but as it was, I wasn’t expecting anything any better than the mediocre reviews it has been receiving lately.
The film’s plot is a little confusing but I will leave out certain spoiler-y elements to keep it as concise as possible. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young executive, is brought into a meeting and blackmailed into heading out to a remote “wellness center” to retrieve his CEO so that an important merger may take place. There he meets the head of the organization, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), who is in no hurry to help him find said CEO but would rather have him relax and enjoy his stay. After Lockhart is involved in a car accident and is placed in a cast, he is forced to stay in the facility and begins to notice continuously strange occurrences taking place.
The first thing I said after I walked out of this movie was simply: “what the hell was that?” This was seriously one of the strangest mainstream films I have seen in a long time and to that end, I must give it credit for having the balls to have its own wonderfully unique trappings. The film contains some truly nightmarish moments as well and those are punctuated and accentuated by Verbinski’s talented knack for visuals like I had praised at the beginning of this review. In fact, I will warn people right now: some of it is TRULY disturbing and hard to watch. There is one scene in particular involving some rather traumatic stuff involving a dentist drill and teeth that almost caused me to look away. In relation to the visuals, the cinematography lends itself well to Verbinski’s style and the locations themselves are beautiful, especially in regards to the wellness center itself. There is a later scene involving some local townies in a bar that is also wonderful but that had more to do with the odd staging of the scene rather than the locale itself.
I didn’t know much about Dane DeHaan before this film but he did a solid job in the lead role here. Dane also had a bit of a difficult task because he starts out playing someone so detestable (arguably, moreso than he should’ve been which is definitely a writing flaw) but manages to get the viewers on his side most of the time. If it had been a lesser performance, it could’ve derailed the entire movie. Jason Isaacs underplays his role for the most part with a quiet intensity but also an inviting and friendly sort o quality so that you never quite know where you stand with the character. Mia Goth is another highlight as a strange patient named Hannah, who gradually becomes more important as the story progresses forward. Hannah is quiet and shy for the most part but she really shines in a scene where she ends up outside of the wellness center and starts dancing; it’s hard to describe that scene and make it seem good just by its description but it’s honestly a fascinating section of the film and it’s mostly due to Mia’s performance. The rest of the performances are fine but those are easily the three standouts.
I had said before that the plot could potentially be confusing at times but I don’t believe that to be at the fault of the director or even the screenwriter. The editing may be the biggest culprit but while I found that to be a detractor, it was also a great help at the same time and helped to make this film stand out among others. What starts out as a mostly straight-forward tale of this man attempting to ‘rescue’ another man from this strange place turns into a allegory about people being so prone to search for medical answers to every one of their problems. The script does a solid job at swaying the viewer back and forth about what the conclusion may be as it had me constantly second-guessing myself with every new reveal. Some of the reveals are incredibly bizarre. There is one moment where Lockhart is placed in a sensory-deprivation tank in order to heal but he begins to imagine (or maybe he doesn’t) a large quantity of eels that seemingly attack him while he witnesses a female staffer remove her top while a male staffer starts masturbating under the desk. It’s scenes like this that make one constantly aware that we are in a very strange world in this film.
We could also talk about the message within the film. While it is not completely overt or over-the-top, there is certainly a message here regarding people seeking out medication whether they need it or not. Throughout much of the film, we regularly hear patients talking about how they “need” the cure or that they “need” treatment. In fact, at the very beginning of the film we even hear a letter that was written by the CEO that Lockhart is sent to retrieve and the crux of it is that he feels as though everyone is suffering from a “sickness” just based on everyday vices.
I could go on and on about the many aspects of this strange underrated film but I will just leave it at this: give it a chance. I am not guaranteeing that you will like it or not but hopefully you will at least appreciate this unique tale from a visionary filmmaker.
RATING: *** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)