Interview with Gore Verbinski, Director of A Cure for Wellness

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By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

A Cure for Wellness is a wild and twisty ride that aims to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, guessing what may lurk around the next creepy corner. It’s scary, weird, dark, disturbing, gripping, and beautifully shot. It’s psychological thriller meets gothic horror and who better to bring that story to life than Gore Verbinski?

The film marks Verbinski’s return to horror – he previously directed The Ring – and it’s one that definitely makes a statement and succeeds in proving said genre is where many of his strengths lie.

It tells the story of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) as he’s sent to a remote wellness spa in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO. However, he’s involved in a horrific car crash and is made to stay at the center for longer than planned. Soon, he realizes something is not right and the treatments the patients claim are so miraculous are not actually what they seem.

I recently spoke to Verbinski to learn more about where the idea for this sure-to-be polarizing movie came from, why it won’t be for everyone, what he thinks humanity’s sickness actually is, and more.

A Cure for Wellness has such an out-there concept. How was it conceived?

[Screenwriter] Justin Haythe and I were just talking about what we wanted to do next and there was a lot going on in that process, but we really started with the idea of a place that was maybe high up in the Alps and has been looking down for a long time watching modern mankind evolve and offering a diagnosis. We realized we were firmly rooted in a genre at that point. It really evolved from there – taking the idea of some place that tranquil and a place of beauty and calm and corrupting it.

It’s also a different tone than we’ve seen from you recently – we’re used to the more family friendly Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango! But this is a return to horror for you. What about it stood out to you and made you want to direct it and make it your return to the genre?

It’s one of the few genres where you really get to slow-cook the audience. You get to conduct these kind of psychological experiments on people in a darkened room and I think when you’re watching Dane DeHaan’s character, Lockhart, reluctantly become a patient of this place, really you’re the patient. Using sound and image and then we have you for a period of time. We really are dabbling in the gothic and the danger there and when the curtain closes and you kind of pull it away, we wanted something to stay with you and I think to do that, you have to tap into that contemporary fear. Certainly there’s something that makes us vulnerable to the pharmaceutical companies and the kale smoothies or whatever. We must know that deep down inside, something’s not right.

Who were some of your directorial influences? I see Kubrick and maybe even a little Scorsese.

All over. Joseph Losey made a beautiful film called The Servant, [Jack] Clayton did The Innocents, Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, Don’t Look Now, The Shining. All of those movies have a real sense of something inevitable, a promise that something inevitable is going to occur, and we tried to say, “Well, what if that was the disease itself?” What if the sickness was really the invisible force, that sort of black spot on your x-ray, the cancer that’s present – even though the protagonist is not aware of it – that things that occurred at this place 200 years ago are destined to happen again? And I think that’s what makes the genre really interesting.

The whole film is about finding a cure for the “sickness.” What does the sickness represent to you and how would you cure it?

It’s an oxymoron, right? I think it’s a little bit like what I was saying earlier that I think there’s something wrong with us. The movie is really about two worlds and at the end of the film, I think Lockhart and Hannah (Mia Goth) don’t belong to either of them. They’ve rejected both. But certainly the way that the greatest villains think they’re always right, I think Director Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and the sanatorium are sort of correct in their diagnosis. That’s why Lockhart’s character is a stockbroker. What is wellness? Is wellness personal gain and wealth? What’s the difference between net worth and self-worth? And so all of that comes in to play. I imagine it’s a place you would, if you wandered into that steam room a little further, you might bump into Dick Cheney with a towel wrapped around him. Anybody that has achieved something has done it at a cost and this place preys upon that. It offers the cure, but the cure is worse than the disease.

I saw the movie a week ago and there are still scenes and moments that have stuck with me. Where do such ideas come from and how to you endeavor to create such lasting impressions?

I think in this case, with this movie, we really wanted to make something that’s not really for everybody, but for more real fans of the genre and as soon as you release the burden of saying, “It has to be a four-quadrant movie,” and don’t bring the kids, and once you do that, you can start to tell a story that’s made from the whole cloth. I think quite often, we go to movies these days and we’ve been to the theme park or we’ve played the video game or we’ve read the book or know the toy or whatever it is. I remember going to movies and not knowing anything about it, and so we really tried to go back to that place. It’s not based on anything you’re familiar with. Just go to the movies the way we used to go to the movies.

With so many intricate shots and in wanting the audience to not feel like they know what’s going on, what was the hardest scene to film?

Technically, probably the isolation tank because Dane was underwater and the camera was underwater. I think those things always slow you down and have safety concerns. But really, it was maintaining the performance throughout shooting vastly out of order. It looked like we filmed in one place, but really, the castle is one location and the interior is a different location and the swimming pool is a different location, and there was bit on a stage and our stage burned down while we were filming and we had to come back a month later. The performances are really like a lid rattling on a pot of boiling water, so that’s really the greatest challenge: communicating with the cast in terms of exactly how the puzzle is going to come together.

Without spoiling too much, there are a few scenes that are very disturbing. What do you say to those people who may incite backlash?

Incite backlash, that sounds exciting. You know, I think it’s important to sort of be the untrustworthy narrator. To take you out of your comfort zone. And I think there’s value in piercing the membrane once in a while so that you’re not sure when we’re going to do that again. I think it’s nice from time to time to cross a line because then, when you’re watching the movie, you’re in a much more agitated state, much more unsure, and taken out of your comfort zone. So I think ultimately, the game is to keep [the audience] uneasy. We never linger or stay there too long, but I think from time to time, make you not sure what we’re capable of.

You’ve mentioned Dane DeHaan a few times and his character goes through quite the journey in the movie, one I think the audience will be surprised about. What made him the right actor for this part and what do you hope is the takeaway from Lockhart’s progression?

Justin Haynes and I had intentionally written the character as a bit of an asshole, in the first 20 pages particularly, because he has to be susceptible to this diagnosis. You have to have a kind of sickness. He’s a stockbroker who really is going to do whatever it takes to succeed and I think the letter that arrives from Pembroke is sort of speaking to his soul in many ways. He thinks he knows something’s not right and there’s an emptiness there. So it was really important to cast Dane because fundamentally, I wanted to have that part inhabited by an actor who we still want to watch, even at that point. And I think that as he begins to have doubts, we have more empathy for him. So he grows on you throughout the movie.

Finally, what do you hope audiences take away, or what really do you feel is the lesson of the film?

As I said, I think there are two worlds within the movie, and our protagonist, Lockhart, and Hannah, who at the end, both don’t belong to either world. And I think there’s no sense in providing any answers to where they’re going, but I do think there’s a palpable sense that’s something’s not right in our world, particularly in the youth today. If you’re 23 years old and taking a gap year from college or whatever, there’s some sense of, “Is this all there is?” We’re born into this algorithm – you’re born, you go to school, you work, and then you could get hit by a bus or you get prostate cancer, or whatever, and we get the sense that we know there’s no more headroom, and yet we’re told, “This is the way it’s been, this is the way it will always be, and this is what you need to do,” and I think we need to take pause in that and say, “Is that wellness? Is that making us well?” And I think to ask the question is to get to the end of the journey.

A Cure for Wellness opens this Friday, February 17, 2017.


    One Comment

  1. Anjanette RodgersFebruary 15th, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    I have been looking forward to this since I saw,the first trailer. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre but this looks too amazing to resist.

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