"It's gonna f*ck you up." That's how director Gore Verbinski teased "A Cure for Wellness" to a theater full of press in New York City earlier this month. "We want to do what 'Jaws' did to a day at the beach for the health spa."
Much was still unknown about the horror-thriller when the first preview debuted, except for a basic premise: Dane DeHaan, who co-leads Luc Besson's "Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets," plays a young executive sent to retrieve his company's CEO from a mysterious wellness center in the Swiss Alps. Once he arrives, it becomes impossible to leave as he begins to unravel the secrets of the unique treatment and the curious illness that seems to be holding all the patients hostage.
More answers to the plot of this tale were revealed at the Fox Showcase event, which previewed a few of the studio's films coming in 2017. In addition to a brand-new trailer, which you can watch for yourself below, attendees viewed the first 35 minutes of the film, which comes across as Verbinski's take on "Shutter Island."The film begins with the death of an executive. He's working frantically at his desk, long after everyone else has left for home, when he clutches his chest in pain. When the feeling persists, he goes to get a drink of water, but that seems to exacerbate the symptoms and he falls to the floor -- dead.
Cut to DeHaan's Mr. Lockhart, who himself is typing furiously away in a spreadsheet while sitting on a train heading for the Alps and bossing a subordinate on the phone. Present and past blend in flashback as the screen is peppered with striking imagery, highlighting the artistry of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli.
Lockhart was called in by his bosses at his financial firm. Thinking he'd be congratulated on his recent success, he's instead called out for his nefarious dealings that could put the entire company at fault. Lucky for him, he's quick to recognize they have a bigger fish to fry: Mr. Pembroke, their CEO, fled to a wellness center and left behind a letter with a message about a sickness in all of them. Believing him to be unhinged, the executives wants Lockhart to retrieve him so they can put the blame on Pembroke, leaving a spot for him to rise in the ranks.
As he heads closer to the center, which is deep into the wild of the Alps, we see another flash of his mother, who dies and leaves him alone without a family -- meaning, there's no one who'll come to check up on him. Lockhart learns from his driver that the center doesn't have a peaceful relationship with the neighboring town, which seems to view the patients as "wealthy people" who have "wealthy problems."
The center itself seems cultish. Verbinksi shot the scenes at a real location called Hohenzollern Castle, in Germany, which stands as a nod to Dracula's Transylvanian lair. DeHaan further noted how the director wanted him to watch films like "The Shining," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Tenant" to get into the mood he was trying to achieve.
The patients are much older and treating the spa as a retreat. Reality begins to blur with more bold imagery -- the eye of a deer head hanging on the wall reflects DeHaan's conversation with one of the facility's doctors, the spiral staircases and ocular architecture play with perspective, and Lockhart falls into hallucinations as he stumbles through the steam room.
It all seems to come back to the water. The center specializes in hydrotherapy, and even the doctors are known to consume droplets of something out of vials. When Lockhart is unable to see Pembroke upon arrival, he has his driver take him to his hotel, but along the way a deer runs out in the street and causes the car to tumble down the mountainside.
"My arm popped out of its socket, real quick, and then popped back in," DeHaan revealed of that scene, adding, "I just said, 'You have to use that take.'" And Verbinski did.
Lockhart wakes up days later in a hospital bed at the center, his leg wrapped in a cast. The head of the spa, played by Jason Isaacs, says he notified his work and they all agree he should recuperate here. There were other, more subtle clues that suggest Lockhart won't be leaving anytime soon, but the biggest question is what's in the water?
After Lockhart takes a drink in his hospital room, he plucks something from the glass: it's a small, wormy spec -- and it's moving.
The footage, though intriguing, offers some healthy skepticism. The frame work and cinematography are both gorgeous to bold and foreboding of worse things to come, but some of the hints at what's to come seem obvious and the resemblance in story to "Shutter Island" are difficult to ignore. At the end of the day, the presentation did it's job: our interest is piqued.
"A Cure for Wellness" hits theaters February 17, 2017.