Pirates of the Caribbean director, Gore Verbinski sets a course for even darker waters with this 18 certificate mystery movie, giving us a twisted fairy tale that evokes plenty of other great films, yet still somehow manages to retain its own identity. This is the kind of thing that Tim Burton does, only, dare I say it? Better. Much better.
Ambitious young executive, Lockhart (Dane Dehaan) is sent by his employers to a remote sanitarium in the Swiss Alps, where he is instructed to locate and bring back the company’s head honcho, Pembroke (Harry Groener), who went out there for the ‘cure’ and has subsequently gone AWOL. No sooner has Lockhart arrived than he’s presented with a whole host of unanswered questions. Why is the sanitarium’s mysterious director, Volman (Jason Isaac, sporting a Germanic accent) so oily and evasive? What’s going on with the weirdly enigmatic Hannah (an engaging turn from the appropriately named Mia Goth)? And what exactly is in that special spa water that everybody seems addicted to drinking?
Verbinski takes his time answering those questions and, even if some of the convoluted plot’s loose ends are never satisfactorily tied up, it’s nevertheless an intriguing and sometimes suspenseful journey getting there. Despite a running time of two and a half hours, the film never drags and switches smoothly from one deeply creepy set-piece to the next. A sequence in a dentist’s chair is likely to put you off ever sitting in one again, while other scenes here will doubtless dissuade you from eating jellied eels for life. Along the way, some of the best horror films in history are cleverly recalled – Rosemary’s Baby, Dance of the Vampires, The Shining… and there’s even a strand that put me in mind of vintage TV series, The Prisoner (which to my mind is the ultimate praise). If everything goes a bit Hammer Horror at the conclusion, it’s by no means a bad thing.
Not everyone will like this. It’s probably far too weird for mass approbation and there’s a complete refusal to take the easy path when the scenic route has so much for offer – and speaking of scenery, the location photography is particularly sumptuous. But be careful. Behind every pretty thing, there’s something sinister waiting to jump out at you.