Tag Archives: Dane DeHaan

LIST CANDIDATE: A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener

PLOT: A young executive goes to a remote spa planning to recover his company’s CEO, who appears to have gone insane and joined a wellness cult; circumstances lead him to become a patient as he investigates the place and learns its dark secrets.

Still from A Cure for Wellness (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although it’s uneven to the point of frustration, A Cure for Wellness is going to be the weirdest Hollywood-backed movie of the year, making it one we need to consider. Gore Verbinski blew all the Hollywood goodwill he earned from directing the Pirates of the Caribbean series on this majestic vanity, so we are unlike to see anything this strange in cineplexes for a while.

COMMENTS: A Cure for Wellness is a spin on “Dracula”‘s basic plot. Dane DeHaan is Lockhart, the Jonathan Harker character, sent to fetch the Reinfield character (Harry Groener as CEO Pembroke) from the castle (now a sanitarium on a Swiss mountaintop) run by a mysterious aristocrat (now hospital director Volmer, a name that sounds like it could have come out of an unpublished Bram Stoker novella). The villagers living at the base of the mountain despise the residents of the castle—er, spa—-and there’s even legends about ancient degenerate evils perpetrated by an evil Baron on the site now occupied by the sanitarium. There’s a Mina Harker-ish love interest (Mia Goth’s waify Hannah, enticing  both Lockhart and Volmer). The bulk of the film has Lockhart imprisoned and convalescing, under friendly pretenses, in the demonic lair, investigating his surroundings and his host and making terrifying discoveries (Harker’s scenes inside the vampire’s castle were always the best part of “Dracula”). Water takes the place of blood as a symbol of the leeched life-force.

It’s a sturdy and well-tested horror structure, disguised just enough by the modern setting. Unfortunately, it does not completely pay off. Gore Verbinski has a chance to update the dusty old tale with new satirical furnishings: digs at the modern corporate structure and the wellness movement. The targets are set up, but not knocked down. Lockhart has a rich psychological backstory explaining how he became such a selfishly driven bastard, but while flashbacks suggest this history might hold a key to the story’s deeper meaning, it turns out to be either window dressing or a red herring. A Cure for Wellness can’t decide if it wants to be a straight horror story, a twisty psychological thriller, or a pure Surrealist dream movie. It doesn’t commit to any one of the these genres, and in the end it settles for what may be the least interesting possible compromise between the trio of possibilities. (A movie’s not knowing what it wants to be is no bar to weirdness, but in this case I suspect the rough edges are more a result of waffling than of artistic dementia).

When Lockhart first meets Pembroke, he has been tracking him through the spa’s labyrinthine steam room. He enters a room and finds that the exit has disappeared; impossibly, he’s now trapped inside four walls, filling up with steam. Turning in circles, he suddenly spies an doorway in one of the walls; a stag walks past it. He exits the chamber where he was trapped and finds the CEO sitting on a bench, sweating. Immediately, he forgets the previous minutes eerie events and starts interrogating his quarry about why he left the corporate boardroom. He doesn’t waste time asking why wild animals are roaming the halls; his experiences are immediately forgotten. That sort of thing suggests either sloppy screenwriting, or an “it’s all a dream” interpretation (a reading the script supports by repeatedly referring to a dreaming ballerina figurine crafted by Lockhart’s mom). If Wellness means to be a dream film like that more famous Surrealist institution down the road, The Hourglass Sanatorium, however, it shouldn’t take it’s silly conclusion so darn seriously.

It seems more likely that the script simply incorporates fuzzy possibilities of hallucinations into the story as a way to have its cake and eat it to. Fortunately, the cake is good–if, at two-and-a-half hours, there’s a little too much of it. Verbinski fixates on the eel as a horror image. They show up in the strangest places, and elicit delicious chills almost every time. The sanitarium is a winning setting, and slow camera pans through its off-white halls provide effective suspense. Also, I would advise not going to the dentist for at least a week after seeing this film. The whole thing may not add up to much, but the ian intensity of individual scenes is undeniable. I was totally enthralled by Wellness for the first hour or so, before it’s structure began to crumble into repetitive noodling. But it’s rare to see this much money thrown at the screen to evoke such elaborate weirdness—so I would urge readers to get out and see it on the big screen during its sure-to-be-short run.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…about as weird as modern Hollywood movies get… Simply put, nothing stranger is likely to make it to multiplexes any time soon. Savor the oddness.”–A.A.Dowd, The A.V. Club (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo

PLOT: A roadie goes on a mysterious errand during a Metallica concert.

Still from Metallica Through the Never (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a weird movie for fans of Metallica, not a Metallica movie for fans of the weird.

COMMENTS: Obviously, aficionados of hard rock outfit Metallica’s shredding guitars, brutal pounding rhythms, and morbid macho posturing will be thrilled with this 90-minute testament to their precision musicianship and sweaty stage presence. Fans will be happy to hear that the 14-song set isn’t a plug for the latest album, but instead is of a classic greatest-hits survey of crowd favorites. To me, on the other hand, every Metallica song sounds like a guy with anger-management issues yelling at his malfunctioning washing machine. Then again, I think popular music never recovered from the wrong turn it took at Bill Haley & the Comets. Still, as a pure adrenaline/testosterone concert concoction, Through the Never is near the top of the heap. The elaborate stage production features walls of video monitors (and even a video floor that sometimes “fills” with blood), green lasers shooting skyward, the assembly and demolition of a colossus, and a sequence where the electrical wiring goes haywire and speakers come crashing down onto the stadium floor, all captured with some impressive crane shots. Even with the receding hairlines, the performance is of sufficient energy to avoid Spinal Tap syndrome. All of this will, obviously, play to fans looking for the virtual concert experience. Through the Never‘s extra ambition comes in its feature-length music video style narrative about a roadie named Trip who’s sent to recover a mysterious parcel while the band plays. His mission takes him through a surreal Vancouver nightscape ruled by rioters and a horseman in a gas mask. Director Nimród Antal indulges his visual imagination with weird moments like a bleeding guitar and a walking voodoo doll. These music video styled semi-narrative excursions effectively break up what otherwise might have become a tedious visual exercise in determining how many ways you can shoot a guitar so it reminds you of a phallus. And, although the symbolism will be obscure to outsiders, there is a touching point to Trip’s quest that Metallica diehards will surely pick up on. Non-essential for non-fans, but not nearly as bad as it could have been, and infinitely better than the last movie we reviewed in these pages sponsored by a band.

I find echoes of the fascist concert sequences from Pink Floyd The Wall in the call-and-response exercises with the adoring audience who chant angry lyrics about death like holy texts. That’s not unique to Metallica, of course: this Dionysian abandonment, the adolescent’s desire to dissolve his individuality into the headbanging collective, is the thing I’ve always hated most about rock concerts.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Who says a movie has to make a lick of sense to be entertaining?… If half an hour of bizarro side-narrative fever dream is the price of admission for a gorgeously lensed, best-seat-in-the-house hour of chugging rock brutality, I’ll pay gladly.”–Colin Covert, Minnesota Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: JACK AND DIANE (2012)

Reader Recommendation by Jason Steadmon

DIRECTED BY: Bradley Rust Gray

FEATURING: , Riley Keough, , , Lou Taylor Pucci

PLOT: Somewhat immature Diane (Temple) meets and starts a relationship with the streetwise Jack (Keough) while also going through some strange blackouts and changes.

Still from Jack and Diane (2012)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: If you take the point of view that an analogy doesn’t make for weirdness, Jack & Diane may not immediately make the List. This movie, however, takes that analogy and leaves one to make one’s own mind up. Maybe Diane is turning into a creature in her blackouts – maybe not. It’s from this ambiguity that the movie derives its strangeness.

COMMENTS: Diane is a girl who has been getting nosebleeds lately, and those eventually lead to some scary blackouts, with her seeing a creature in the mirror in place of her own reflection. The idea that Diane may be going through some bodily change (cancer, maturation, exploration of her own sexuality, etc.) is a pure distillation of metaphor–except that it starts to have physical consequences for her lover Jack. Jack eventually gets jealous of Diane hanging around with her friends–Diane has a more fluid sexual nature as opposed to Jack’s straight-up lesbian orientation–even if she was willing to roll with the sometimes literal punches of the relationship. If this isn’t metaphorical, both Diane and Jack (and New York City) are in trouble, because one of them is turning into a very violent monster.

Diane’s other self is represented through some good old-fashioned prosthetic work by veteran effects artist Gabe Bartalos (the Leprechaun movies, most of ’s films). The impending coming of the Creature Diane is also represented in animation by the Brothers Quay in their characteristic and inimitable style. Bradley Rust Gray does good service to the iffy nature of the story and never beats you over the head with the creature. He is obviously bolstered by his experience with both independent and experimental film. As Diane, Juno Temple doesn’t necessarily break any new ground in the childlike yet sexually charged role–but does well with a part that seems written with her in mind. More astounding is Keough (Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter) as Jack, completely eschewing her normal glamorous looks to play the tomboyish role, and bringing depth to the character that one might not expect from someone who makes a regular living as a fashion model.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tonally, the film swings between whispery romance and ominous horror as it explores the dark side of love and lust, including an amusingly gory meditation on the notion that the person you think is your beloved might just rip your heart out.”–Sara Stewart, New York Post (contemporaneous)