“Only when we know what ails us can we hope to find the cure”
From visionary director, Gore Verbinski, A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a chilling and mind-bending psychological thriller. Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a driven Wall Street stockbroker who is sent by his firm to a remote alpine medical spa. Lockhart is on a mission to retrieve the company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), a patient at the spa, who has told his staff that he has no intention of returning to New York. Lockhart arrives at the tranquil sanitarium where the residents are supposedly receiving a miracle cure. In fact though, they seem to be getting sicker. As he investigates the dark and baffling secrets behind the spa, he meets a young woman, the hauntingly beautiful Hannah (Mia Goth), a patient herself. He also gets to know another patient, the eccentric Mrs. Watkins, played by Celia Imrie, who has done some detective work of her own. Soon, Lockhart is diagnosed with the same condition as the other patients by the institution’s director, the ominous Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and finds that he is trapped in the alpine retreat. Lockhart begins to lose his grip on reality and has to endure unimaginable ordeals during the course of his own ‘treatment’.
In the tradition of Verbinski’s indelible 2002 classic, THE RING, the Academy Award® winning filmmaker brings his inimitable style and vision to A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Atmospheric and visually breathtaking, the film is compelling and thought provoking, exploring the true meaning of wellness and the trappings of avarice and power, while asking what fulfillment really means.
Embarking on A CURE FOR WELLNESS, Verbinski wanted to make a thriller with the depth, insight and power of classics in the genre that he admired, such as THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film), DON’T LOOK NOW (Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film). The idea of a quick fix cure, together with society’s malaise and the obsession with perfect health were topics that fascinated Verbinski, whose films include the hugely successful PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise and the Academy Award® winning animated film, RANGO. “We started exploring the notion of a health spa in the Alps, a wellness center that doesn’t actually make you well,” says Verbinski, “and it slowly evolved from there. It became pretty clear to us that this was going to be a genre piece, and we started playing around with the concept of inevitability. It’s the sense that there is a sickness, a sort of black spot on your x-ray that won’t go away!”
Verbinski sat down with screenwriter Justin Haythe (THE LONE RANGER, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD). “I had an idea bouncing around in my head for some time from various influences and preoccupations, but it mostly came from a suspicion of medicine,” says Haythe, who was inspired by the work of German writer Thomas Mann and by psychiatrist Carl Jung. “The film really concerns the pollution of our minds and bodies in the modern world and our obsession with purity as a result of that.”
One of Hollywood’s most exciting young actors, the gifted and charismatic Dane DeHaan (KILL YOUR DARLINGS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, LIFE) was thrilled about taking on the role of Lockhart and working with Verbinski. “To listen to Gore’s vision and hear how passionate he was about it, and then to read the script and understand what a challenging role it was—that was irresistible,” says DeHaan. “My character goes through so much in this film, it’s crazy. And this was an opportunity to work with a great filmmaker.”
“I saw Dane in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES,” says Verbinski. “I just found him to be really interesting and photogenic and honest. I couldn’t get him out of my head for the role of Lockhart. He also has a really fantastic work ethic, which is what you want when you’re casting a spell, as we are doing in this movie. You can’t blink at all. The audience is there with sharpened knives! Dane is great because he is always finding something truthful. If you get down to his core mantra, it is: ‘don’t pretend. Be truthful.’”
As well as authenticity, DeHaan brings strength and vulnerability to his complex character. “Lockhart is a perfect everyman hero for a film like this, which deals with wellness and ambition and health and today’s society,” says DeHaan. “The fact that he is a young guy who works on Wall Street says a lot! What those young people working for Wall Street companies go through is pretty incredible. It is almost like a hazing process. They work around the clock, and it is almost like: ‘what are you willing to give up for this company?’ They are asked to sit at their desks for most hours of the day and work and work and work. You’re not really doing anything helpful for the world. I guess ultimately the end goal for them is personal gain and power and wealth, to get ahead in the company and to prove themselves to everybody. These people make crazy amounts of money and that’s what they’re after. That takes a very specific kind of person.”
“Lockhart is a guy who’s determined to succeed at all costs,” says Verbinski. “We made Dane’s character a stockbroker because I think at the end of the day, that is the ultimate example of that kind of person. He makes money, okay, but what does he really make? He makes money off other people who make money, unlike people who make, for example, clay pots or shoes. Those people are making something real. Lockhart has decided he is not going to be like his father, who didn’t make it. He’s going to have that job on the board of the company. He will cheat and lie and deceive and do whatever it takes to beat his fellow man,” adds Verbinski, discussing the motivation and psyche of the character, which is rooted in the young stockbroker’s troubled family history.
“When Lockhart arrives at the spa, he is in denial, he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with him,” says Verbinski. “But he has this disease worse than any of the other patients. He is diagnosed with the same mysterious illness and becomes a patient at the sanitarium himself. He starts to investigate the deeper, darker secrets of the place,” continues Verbinski. “But the closer he gets to the truth, the more his grasp on reality begins to slip.”
A superb storyteller and a master of pacing, Gore creates an unsettling, ominous atmosphere throughout A CURE FOR WELLNESS, immersing the audience in the world of the spa, where nothing is clear or straightforward. “Well it is interesting, because I think the more enigmatic you make something, particularly in this genre, the more you can employ a sort of dream logic,” says Verbinski. “Things can remain enigmatic because you sense there’s some other force, something inevitable happening. To me, that’s the big tease—to try to make everything feel like there’s this sickness that’s not going away; it is pulling you. You are pointing the camera down the corridor and leading the protagonist towards his ultimate epiphany. Once you have that working, you don’t need to have so much exposition, explaining how things work. You just feel like this is all happening for a reason.”
The opportunity of working with Gore was a formidable draw for everyone involved in the film, from the cast to the production team. Justin Haythe describes the experience as a pleasure. “He’s the best! Gore is uncompromising,” says Haythe, “but only and always in pursuit of the best movie. Ego does not factor in. Design and sound have great power in this genre and Gore is a master of both.”
“I loved working with Gore,” says Dane DeHaan. “It was a real treat. Some people have a photographic memory, I feel like Gore has a cinematic memory. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is on top of every aspect of it, the lighting, the props, the acting. It is like he has the entire movie in his mind. Gore is so visual and specific in terms of how he tells the story; he is particular about every shot in the movie. He is also an easy director to trust because he knows exactly what he wants. My job was just to bring what he wanted to life, in a way that I have never experienced before. It was a real collaboration between the two of us. He respected all the work I did and brought to the table, but he also had a very specific vision himself. It was incredible to work with him.”
Veteran British actor, Jason Isaacs, notes that Verbinski is a director with a unique and compelling perspective. “Talking with Gore it became clear that he was interested in nuance, and keeping everyone surprised at all times. Gore is a phenomenon on the set, he was very aware of how all the scenes would play together,” continues Isaacs. “He would come to the set with a giant white board covered with storyboards that only he could interpret, which meant we actors felt very safe. And if we had some ideas, he was always open to listening to them.”
Olivier award-winning and Screen Actors Guild-nominated actress, Celia Imrie, whose films include BRIDGET JONES’S BABY, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, was equally impressed by her experience of working with Verbinski. “He knows the entire script off by heart. But he is also unusually generous with his encouragement and praise, not just for us, for everyone. He was encouraging to a young actor who came in for just one day, playing an orderly who takes me off for treatment,” says Imrie. “That attitude makes you want to work harder and better. I’d willingly do any of his films from now on!”
“I have never met a better prepared director than Gore Verbinski,” concurs producer, David Crockett. “He’s already shot the entire movie in his head, and he knows exactly where he wants to take the audience on this journey. And he always has the audience’s enjoyment in mind. The other great thing about him is his ability to move from talking with the technical crew, the set designers or the props guys about the minutest detail of a shot, to walking across the set and having a very detailed conversation with an actor about his or her character. I really find that unique about him, his ability to take the entire filmmaking world, from creative to technical, and put it all into one great package.”
A CURE FOR WELLNESS is in UK Cinemas from Friday, 24th February.