Sometimes–horror director–turned–Pirates of the Caribbean helmer Gore Verbinski conjures some chills with a cold plunge into an enchanting and frightful sanitarium world -- the imagery's straight out of a Kubrick and Lynch nightmare -- but his story unravels as he tries to overexplain his evil doctor's devilish plot.
A Wall Street exec named Pembroke (Harry Groener) disappears on a two-week vacation, mailing cryptic letters back to coworkers about being "unwell" and finding a "cure." Meanwhile, his 20-something successor, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), badly needs a scapegoat to hold the bag for SEC violations. The only thing that will save him is venturing to the remote resort Pembroke has absconded to and dragging the crazy old coot back to New York.
In Switzerland, Lockhart hires a car to crawl up the mountaintop sanitarium, where he finds elite senior citizens clad in clean, cream-colored robes corralled into gorgeously tiled steam rooms and stately indoor pools seemingly inspired by Julia Morgan, the patron architect of the Art Deco era. Verbinski's reteamed with Bojan Bazelli, his cinematographer from The Ring, who relishes in stunning wide shots the gleaming mint greens and baby blues. Lockhart soon becomes a patient himself, with Volmer (Jason Isaacs) advising him to drink plenty of the sanitarium's pure healing waters, for which they're famous. Any time a character chugs a glass of H2O, Verbinski's close-ups on their mouths and throats turn the act of drinking into a tense dilemma -- should they trust the doctor?
But then Lockhart has to save a damsel (Mia Goth), and we're given endless backstory even though the "mystery" is plainly obvious. What starts out as a superbly chilling movie turns into a cheesy aristocratic melodrama that runs an interminable 146 minutes.