I’m not one for spas, health farms and the like. The thought of taking the waters, massages, oils and fluffy white dressing gowns and a lot of muesli isn’t my idea of a break. The Americans like to call such things wellness centres these days, and it is to a mountain-top Swiss spa to which an arrogant young Wall Street hot shot is despatched to bring back one of the firm’s head honchos who appears to have had some kind of stress-related meltdown and now won’t get off his solarium lounger.
Off goes our scowling young broker (Dane de Haan), although you and I would have turned round as soon as you pull up at the iron gates with their snake symbols and a big bald evil gardner character sweeping up and staring at you.
Once at the spa, we meet the head doctor Volmer, played with Germanic relish by Jason Isaacs, surrounded by a team of blonde people in white outfits with clip boards and clipped accents. There’s a mysterious wraith-like girl wafting around, too, played by Mia Goth, which is a great name for an actress who wants to be in a gothic horror pastiche. (Google tells me she’s married to Shia LeBoeuf in real life, or whatever sort of life it is people like that live in).
That’s what this is, directed by Gore Verbinski in a refreshing change (for us and for him, I should imagine) from his Johnny Depp period of Pirates of the Caribbean and the disastrous The Lone Ranger, but not quite back to the inventive promise he showed years ago on Mouse Hunt.
There are some very good scenes involving dental equipment and old medical contraptions, and there are a lot of eels in the water, turning the spa into a Bond villain’s weekend retreat. As the film progresses to an inevitably overblown climax, it also becomes everything from The Shining to Spellbound to Hotel Transylvania via quite a bit of Mel Brooks (without any of the laughs).
It could have worked but there’s no sense of mischief from the film maker nor his unremittingly serious-looking cast, even with the twinkly presence of our own Celia Imrie throw in – and rather thrown away. But it also gets very creepy, in a yucky sort of way, with Isaacs’ demented doctor going places a bit darker than I thought necessary with a storyline about his daughter, her menstruation and some wholly uncalled-for young breast baring.
Despite the style and the various grandiose set-pieces, it’s a silly, vacuous concoction with an unappealing leading man and it’ s about 45 minutes longer than it need be, which is less a cure for wellness than a recipe for disaster.