ReelReviews #117: A Cure for Wellness (2017)

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OCTOBER 20, 2017: A Cure for Wellness

 

 

Wow, how can I review this film?

A couple years back, I screened a Spanish language horror film called “Here Comes the Devil” and thought the film was a total piece of crap right from the start – until it finally got better and had me totally sold on the film by the end credits. “A Cure for Wellness” managed to do the same – but in reverse! Here is a film that I feel in love with from the very beginning, watching it slowly unfold and becoming engrossed in that world and the magic of the movie, as thoughts of “wow, this is BY FAR my favorite horror film since Let Me In, I’m gonna have to rewatch this gem later when I get whatever 3-disc special edition is out on Blu-Ray”) danced in my head. Sadly though, the movie completely unraveled by its third act – turning into some idiotic twist that required a huge sketch of the imagination (which would have been acceptable if the film was marketed as fantasy, but its not) and dragged me through a cringe worthily clichéd and through predictable ending, even up to the last line of dialogue in the film. I sat there in silence as the end credits rolled, crushed that “A Cure for Wellness” managed to screw that up so badly.

Still, A Cure for Wellness gets so much RIGHT in the first 2/3rds of the movie that its impossible for me to give this movie a “bad” review no matter how much the ending ruined it for me. One of my favorite non-horror movies of all time is the similarly titled “The Road to Wellville”, and this film very much plays out like a dark, twisted, evil version of that world. “The Road to Wellville” is a bizarre “based on a true story” historical romp/sex comedy about a turn-of-the-century “Health Clinic” that had cult-like followers and a very unorthodox “Doctor” who ran it with an iron first, the eccentric real life figure of Dr. John Kellogg — creator of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. In the case of this movie, “A Cure for Wellness” likewise is set in a very bizarre, unorthodox, Victorian-era looking “Health Clinic” that supposedly “rehabilitates” people, and is likewise run by a strange “Doctor” who has absolute control over the clinic’s methods and his patients. As the story unfolds here, a young man visits the clinic with the intent of having a patient there immediately discharged so he can attend to some important business involving stocks at his firm. The patient, of course, refuses to leave, and the man soon discovers that none of the “patients” ever seem to “get well” or want to leave, despite appearing to love the Doctor’s methods and being free to leave any time they wish. The man conveniently ends up in a horrible car accident when he tries to report back home, and then the clinic, of course, takes him in to “cure” him.

Everything about this movie falls into place perfectly from the start – and that means not only the story, but the art direction, music, cinematography, and especially, the general gothic/steampunk atmosphere. The casting was also impressive, and all the actors seemed a perfect fit for their role, including the brilliant choice of Jason Issacs as the twisted “Doctor” who runs the clinic. The film runs nearly three hours but didn’t seem bloated at all, because I found myself truly immersed in its strange world. Everything seemed to reveal a bigger piece of the puzzle, and I especially loved one aspect of the movie where a young (teenageish?) girl at the clinic wanders around randomly singing a haunting melody, and is eventually revealed to be a “special case” at the clinic, given that almost all the other patients are elderly. Our hero decides to take her out to town to see the real world one day, with devastating results and consequences.

And then, quite unfortunately, the “secret” behind the clinic was revealed, and the movie went downhill from there. It almost makes me want to recommend this movie since so much potential was being built up as the movie rolled forward, only to see it crushed into a complete disappointment and utter waste of time at the end. I truly have a love-hate relationship with this movie. I love the journey it took me on, but I loathe the destination it got me to.

 

**1/2 out of ****
 

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ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)

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MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****