What do eels, the Swiss alps, and sensory deprivation tanks have in common? This isn't a trick question. They're all major elements in the new psychological horror movie, A Cure For Wellness, in theaters Feb. 17. The movie comes from The Ring director Gore Verbinski and Revolutionary Road screenwriter Justin Haythe and follows young workaholic Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) to a remote Swiss wellness retreat where he's meant to find and bring back one of his firm's partners. Instead, Lockhart becomes trapped by circumstances in a trippy, descending labyrinth overseen by a doctor with questionable motives. The trailers are all over the place, so you may be wondering what happens in A Cure For Wellness exactly. And I'm about to spill all the spa's secrets, so look out for major spoilers below.
First let me say that for a horror movie, A Cure For Wellness is long. So much happens. So much. It all begins when Lockhart is dispatched to retrieve Mr. Pembroke, a former finance shark who wrote a rambling "I quit" letter to his coworkers about how this spa getaway taught him to appreciate what's really important about life. He sounds brainwashed, and when Lockhart arrives at the facility, all the other patients seem to share Pembroke's newfound zen.
The spa has a sordid history, which is imparted to Lockhart by the driver who brings him up the mountain. Hundreds of years previous, a baron lived on the estate with his sister. He was so proud that he refused to mingle his bloodline with anyone else's, so he wed and impregnated his sibling. The townspeople didn't like that very much, so an angry mob set fire to their home and burned his sister-wife alive in front of him. That's quite a legacy.
The staff won't give Lockhart access to Pembroke when he's there as a visitor, but a car accident turns the man into another one of the spa's patients. With a broken leg, Lockhart is stuck in the facility under the care of its head, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs). Lockhart is confused as to why none of the rich, elderly guests are planning on leaving any time soon, since they all seem perfectly well. But each insists that they are not, including Pembroke.
Even more mystifying is the presence of a young woman named Hannah (Mia Goth), who says she's being treated by Dr. Volmer even though she's not subjected to the same water therapy, stasis chambers, and other practices as the older patients. Lockhart stays skeptical of the place and encourages Hannah to help him investigate. What he finds is a chilling head-scratcher. Though the "waters" of the estate are supposed to be healing, patients are showing signs of extreme dehydration.
The truth lies underneath the estate. Above ground, the retreat is idyllic, medicinal, and clean. But Lockhart discovers a secret lab-meets-shrine underneath it. Fetuses and faces are suspended in liquid below a painting of a woman who resembles Hannah. It's the baron's lab, though now he goes by the name Dr. Volmer. Before the townspeople took their revenge on him, the baron used them as human subjects for experiments to find a cure for his ill wife. The experiments worked, and a life-sustaining cocktail has kept the baron and the daughter who survived his mother's murder alive. Hannah has come of age, and Volmer's plan is to marry and sire a child with her, to once again extend his pure bloodline.
Volmer's secret is that the people who come to his spa seeking a cure are actually the key ingredient in his own survival. Lockhart learns firsthand how the tincture is created when the doctor locks him in a chamber filled with liquid, shoves a tube down his throat, and siphons eels from the waters into his body. Underneath, a tiny blue bottle catches droplets of the mixture.
The past comes back to haunt the baron when the house once again goes up into flames. Lockhart is able to rescue Hannah before her father rapes her, and they take off, while the rest of the patients dance in the courtyard in the shadow of the burning building. The retreat promises that its patrons will get a new lease on life and Lockhart actually does. He's seen too much to return to his soulless finance job.
And really, that's just the basics. A Cure For Wellness is wild from start to finish and unlike any other horror movie I've ever seen.