Gore Verbiniski, most famous for his Pirates of the Caribbean movies, returns to his horror roots with A Cure for Wellness, and we sat down with him to get you guys the skinny.
Dread Central: You haven’t done an outright horror movie in awhile. What is it that keeps you coming back?
Gore Verbinski: Well I think it’s one of the genres where you can kind of slip into a dream logic. I mean, I think when Danes character Lockhart makes his way to this place he’s kind of out of bounds, off the map and this sort of waking state slips away and I think we’re kind of entering the place of dreams and nightmares. I think with that kind of narrative you can prey on the audiences motivation to discover and you can use enigma and, there’s sort of two ways to tell a story, there’s a hand on your back leading an audience through a story and there’s the sort of breadcrumb approach. This genre, I think when you use the breadcrumb approach, you can get people sort of nibbling and going, I don’t know why this makes sense but it makes sense in a way, not a waking state but in a way we dream then you can affect them. That little squeaky door in your forehead opens up and you kind of let us have access to your hard drive and you’re watching Dane’s character reluctantly become a patient of this place, when you’re in the darkened room and we’re using sound and image to conduct a psychological experiment on the audience, yeah, I think dreams have real value.
DC: What is the cure, and what’s the sickness?
GV: Well, it’s a good question, I think in our, in kind of creating this place that has maybe observed humanity for a long time, in an ancient castle above the clouds and it’s seen the industrial revolution, it’s seen personal computers and our obsession with our devices, it’s sort of diagnosing modern man if you will. I think the people who are particularly vulnerable are ones who have done anything it takes to succeed and get ahead so this place is sort of praying upon oligarchs and heads of industry and in this case Lockhart, who is going to do anything to kind of succeed but that’s not really wellness, money and success are not really, particularly in the case of Lockhart who, he doesn’t make a padre of shoes or guitars, he makes money off of other people who might make something. So the idea was to kind of hand pick the people who come to this place because director Volmer is kind of offering absolution, he’s saying you’re not responsible because you’re not well, and that sort of note from doctor I think in the initial phase, that’s what keeps them there, it’s they’re kind of narcotic if you will and then the twist is, what if the cure is worse than the disease. I think there’s something, we live in this increasingly irrational world and there’s a reason why we you know, why we’re going to buy these pharmaceutical prescriptions that have side effects is just ridiculous, and whether you’re doing that or having a kale wrap or whatever, we must at our core sense that something is not right or we wouldn’t be susceptible to that.
DC: Is this a studio movie?
GV: It’s not a Fox movie. It’s a New Regency movie, Fox is distributing it so Fox has no money in the movie at all, this is purely a New Regency production, they have a deal with our distributor through Fox. I don’t think they’re an indie but certainly a mini-major, New Regency, and so yeah, we don’t have the means, we live in a time where if I wanted the means to make a story on the scale of what David Lean would have done in the day, you need a theme park or a toy or a superhero, you’re not going to get that so this is more of a case of setting off to Germany with a bag half full or quarter full, but then you’re a bit more off the radar. We were fortunate enough to be left alone and we stayed moderately scaled enough that we could travel to all of these locations. You’re seeing this place as one place but it’s actually fifteen different locations, pieced together to feel like one place, so we were all over Germany and I think if you can stay the right size you can go to a castle for eleven days for exteriors. We found an old hospital in Belitz that was run down and with some fresh paint and new windows we kind of made that our interior and then we needed a swimming pool so we travelled to Swicow where we found this old swimming pool, the tile matched the same color as our hallways and you have to build it like that, try to get a sense of something yeah, cinematic.
DC: Did you have to fight to do an R rated movie?
GV: If you’re asking how we did it, I don’t know, hypnosis? I’m not quite sure how, it’s a good point, how we were allowed to do it. I suppose New Regency were very supportive and slightly pre-occupied with other movies. Yeah, I’m a big fan of the genre from the seventies when it took a little more time and I think when it’s elevated, the genre has this sense of something inevitable, as in the sound and composition, something is happening, pulling the camera down the corridor, it’s pulling the protagonist towards his epiphany and I think for this movie we kept on thinking of that as kind of a sickness, the cancer, the black spot on your x-ray, the thing that is sort of present and Lockhart’s character is in denial I think but the film’s not in denial so composition and framing and sound become really, really important because they have to feel there’s a promise, or there’s a sickness or cancer underneath and I think trying to make that a voice, that’s the voice of the movie itself. Look, it’s very difficult these days to go to a movie and not know what you’re seeing before you get there and so trying to make something where you come and say I know nothing about this, like we used to, we used to go to movies and not know what was going to happen and what the story was.
DC: We noticed a lot of mirrors, and reflections on water.
GV: Well I think the movie is really about two worlds. There’s the world Lockhart comes from and there’s the world of Volmer which is, and I think at the end of this journey, Volmer and Lockhart don’t belong to either of these worlds so it was important to, even in the steam room, that sort of sense that the door’s closed and another door is opening, that we’re moving between two points of view and yeah, how we see things. There’s a lot of reflections… know, Dane’s body separating from himself. For me, I always loved the end of The Graduate, where you didn’t know where they were going and they sort of rejected both of these places and the ambiguity of that and I think youth today particularly, there’s a sense that our father’s fathers told us to work hard, get ahead, succeed and I think you see more kids taking a gap here in college kind of saying, in a world with less and less we don’t think objectively anymore, I think you get the sense that we’re out of room, it’s like an amoeba in a test tube, right? If they’re growing exponentially, the last thing they say to each other is, we don’t have a problem, it’s half empty and then it’s like bam, we hit the wall, like we don’t have a sense of velocity that we’re progressing at and I think you do have one of two worlds and it’s time to sort of step off the treadmill and go wait, time out, maybe this isn’t the best plan. Maybe it was but it isn’t anymore.
DC: With such dreamlike material, did the move come out as you’d envisioned from the beginning?
GV: Yeah, I mean we always knew there was a danger of getting thrown off the rails but that’s why, and if you watch it again, the little tune, there’s something very gothic happening at the very beginning as well, the wax seal and the lullaby and it’s almost like, I wanted a sense of this movie could go there at any time and yeah, I’m pretty happy with it, it’s definitely dangerous.
DC: Where do you think the horror genre is headed?
GV: Well, we’ve really distilled it down to the pop out scale, in many ways, and you see some ninety minute, some great horror in terms of refining that element. I’m just, I think the potential of it, the potential for the narrative to slip into a dream logic, not into the waking state, I think it’s headed into the direction of being refined, distilled, we know what we expect and this movie is making a choice to not go in that direction but it’s definitely headed there. Are you a fan of the films of the seventies? I think there’s something about sitting around a campfire and telling stories, there’s something about a group of strangers in a place together, being told a story that is greater than the sum of its parts. We spend so much time trying to compose the image, the sound, I would hope this is something that people get a chance to see in a theater, but it’s a big ask, to get people to get in their car, to pay too much for popcorn and drive to a movie theater, it’s a huge ask. Hollywood is trying to eventize that experience, to try and keep you coming and the process of eventizing means all the good writers are running to TV so you have, the fabrics tearing and it’s just getting further and further apart and we’re kind of saying everybody’s run away from the middle. Look, if it finds it’s champions hopefully we get to do, not the same thing again, but we get to operate in this place again, which I think would be nice because it’s easier to get one hundred and fifty million dollars than it is to get thirty, if you just need some giant robots or something, or you can get eight, but this is the hardest area to operate in.
DC: Tell us about working with Bojan Bazelli, your DP.
GV: Yeah, Bojan is, we have a very strange relationship, you’d have to come by the set and see, but I love his passion. He will easily leave the narrative, he will just drift off so there is the constant sort of, you have to keep your spurs in him but it’s a symbiotic thing, it’s a dance.
Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, and Mia Goth star. The screenplay is by Justin Haythe; story by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski, who directed.
Look for A Cure for Wellness in theaters on February 17, 2017.
An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure.