Director Gore Verbinski on Tapping into the Zeitgeist with ‘A Cure for Wellness’

     December 21, 2016

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Fans of Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of the Japanese horror film The Ring will be excited to see the director return to the genre with his upcoming film, A Cure for Wellness, starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth, because it’s likely to leave people equally disturbed and freaked out by some of the movie’s ideas and imagery.

A couple weeks back, Collider had a chance to see the first 30 minutes of A Cure for Wellness and sit down with Verbinski to talk about what we saw and his vision for the film.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

It’s an intriguing film that opens on a dark, stormy late night in a Manhattan office where a financial officer is working at his desk when he suddenly gets a heart attack. Shortly after, we meet Dane Dehaan’s Lockhart, a young exec at the company who is called up to see the company’s partners, who convince him to go to Switzerland to retrieve the company’s CEO, who has decided to remain at a castle in the Alps to get treatment—a “cure” involving the waters in the location.

Once Lockhart arrives at the castle, it’s obvious something isn’t quite right with the place. Everything just seems too perfect—everyone is dressed in white, for one thing—and the cynical Lockhart just wants to grab the company’s CEO and get back on a plane to the States, something that’s marred when he winds up in a horrific car crash while trying to leave the castle. In order to recover, he’s left stranded at the castle longer than planned, and he starts seeing and experiencing strange things.

In another year that’s already looking to be full of more sequels and remakes, A Cure for Wellness looks like it’s going to be one of those highly original thrillers, like some of the early movies of David Fincher. From what we’ve seen, it just seems to have this really jarring tone that’s likely to keep viewers on edge and should have everyone talking after they see it.

The day after Fox’s presentation of the film’s opening act, we spoke with Verbinski and tried to learn more about where the idea for this movie came from. Read on below.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

When I first heard about this movie, I thought it was based on a book, but it’s not based on a book. This is a completely original thing you came up with as a movie.

GORE VERBINSKI: Yeah. What book did you think it was based on?

I just thought the title A Cure for Wellness sounds like a book title, like one of those bestsellers.

VERBINSKI: Oh. I see. No, I would say that we–Justin Haythe and I–are both fans of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which deals with a group of people at a sanitarium, sort of clutching onto their illness like a badge prior to the outbreak of World War I. There’s a sense of denial, I think, that Thomas Mann deals with in that book that we’re playing with as well. We’re our own thing. We’re contemporary Gothic, I’d say.

Even the sanitarium, there are horror tropes in that where the visuals of people that end up there and the fear of being put away in an asylum because people think you’re crazy.

VERBINSKI: An asylum thing is interesting because we really tried to say, look … There’s a section, the first quarter of the movie where we’re saying this guy, this protagonist, is sort of ripe for diagnosis and here’s a place that seems tranquil. Your cell phone doesn’t work and your watch stops and your computer’s not functioning anymore, and maybe that’s what’s wrong with you. Maybe you do need to unplug. The health spa nature of it rather than the insane asylum, it’s certainly a “tiramisu” that place. On the surface, it’s wonderful here, and then there are the treatments, and then below there there’s what happened 200 years ago, and then below that there’s a sense of the inevitable that it’s all going to occur again.

But even the look of the place and the fact that everyone’s walking around in white. At first, it seems very positive and uplifting but there’s something jarring about that image with the nurses, doctors and patients all in white.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

VERBINSKI: Before you arrive, everything that takes place in Manhattan has a real sense of … The modern world is a much darker place. I wanted to make it feel like when you arrive here, sonically and image-wise, the audience is sort of ready to be here now. They’ve sort of had it, and right at the opening scene, we’re dealing with the idea of you’re born, you go to school, you get a job, and then you die. Is that what life’s all about? Is that it? Work your ass off until you get prostate cancer? Is there something else?

Was that the idea that you and Justin were playing with? Were you and Justin talking about doing this right after The Lone Ranger?

VERBINSKI: Yeah, I think the sense of denial, the sense of feeling like temporarily it’s all going to be okay, and yet there’s something else happening. There’s a darkness lurking. There’s a sense of the inevitable, like a cancer. Like a spot on your x-ray, pulling the protagonist towards an epiphany and a camera down a corridor. It’s spellcasting, using everything you can–sound, image, characters, narrative–to sort of cast a spell. I’d like to think that that’s another character in the movie is just this sense that something else is occurring, something that the character doesn’t see or understand. A sickness. Really the onset of the whole idea was just exploring that.

If I were a psychiatrist, I would ask whether this is meant as an analogy of Hollywood or stuff you had to deal with in Hollywood…

VERBINSKI: It’s interesting because when the genre is elevated, it usually taps into some zeitgeist, right? I think you have monster movies that deal with the Red Scare from the ’50s, and I’d say even The Ring deals with the transferable nature of hatred. Its core is a chain letter and it came out right after 9/11. I think there was a sense of “What did I do to deserve …? What did we do?” That’s the terror. The terror doesn’t go after the perp. It transfers that horror upon an innocent, somebody else. I think with A Cure for Wellness, we’re exploring the sense of there’s a sickness that we’re all in denial of. We all understand history and we’re driving a car into the wall and we’re not turning the wheel. We’re going to live up here. There’s a place above the clouds where you can put all that aside for a moment, and who doesn’t want a note from their doctor saying “You’re absolved,” right? “You’re not well, so none of it’s your fault because you’re not well.” The idea of clutching onto that. All these CEOs and executives, wealthy people, just ending up there, clutching onto their diagnosis. It’s a great calm. The bad news is they’re diseased. The good news is there’s a cure. You’re caught in that loop, and I think everybody who enters that place is caught in that Lotus Eaters, opiate loop of “We’re content to bleed out,” and unaware, waiting for their next treatment.

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