A Wall Street firm’s future hinges on the signature of its CEO on a major deal. The problem? He’s gone to a mysterious health spa high in the Swiss Alps. Ambitious broker Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), the lackey sent to fetch him back, soon learns that all is not what it seems at the serene-seeming wellness centre.
Anyone emerging from Gore Verbinski’s creepy, byzantine but wildly eccentric spa-based potboiler without needing a few days’ R&R of their own is truly made of stern stuff. Freed from the shackles of tentpole moviemaking, the former Pirates and The Lone Ranger director takes the handbrake off – and then some – with a mind-bending mash-up of psychological horror, capitalist critique and old-fashioned folktale. There are red herrings galore and, in a movie where water is a key motif, more eels than a cast reunion for The Deep, as the writer/director strains to keep his audience off-balance. The result is a horror that’s queasy with dread and riddled with mysteries, but sinks in the final act.
Its set-up sees Dane DeHaan’s obnoxious Wall Street gun Lockhart ordered to an Alpine spa to retrieve his firm’s CEO (Harry Groener) in time to complete a merger. His brokerage’s board, an array of callous execs without a conscience between them, have rumbled his previous dodgy dealings and threaten to inform the SEC should he fail to comply. When he arrives, he finds the spa – a “wellness centre” headed by the genteel but sinister Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs, with accent) – perched on an Alpine eyrie, home to ageing captains of industry ‘taking the cure’. Clearly something is off here, though. Legends of past evils echo in its sterile corridors. Lockhart fishes a microscopic bug from his water glass. A deer mysteriously trots through a steam-shrouded room. In short, it’s not Champneys.
“No-one ever leaves,” Lockhart is warned by Mia Hamm’s oddly ethereal resident, words that prove prophetic when a car crash sees him switch from visitor to patient. From here, the story twists, turns and lurches in occasionally stomach-churning directions. All manner of indignities are visited on Lockhart, including a near drowning, several close encounters with those eels and some of the most horrifying movie dentistry since Marathon Man.
Verbinski expertly cranks the tension, lobbing in the odd distracting tangent (Lockhart is haunted by a needless back story), as the layers of malevolence and history gradually peel away. But when the pace needs to shift gears it remains stuck in first, lost in its own intricacies, inching towards a bizarre final act that feels like it’s been bolted on from a different movie. One moment feels particularly misjudged (you’ll know it when you see it), and the big reveal, when it comes, feels like a hokey letdown after all that came before.
A high-altitude horror – think a Bram Stoker reworking of *The Shining* or Shutter Highland – of real craft. Ultimately, though, the plot turns out to be thinner than the air.