In A Cure for Wellness, Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a young executive with a large company whose CEO has gone missing. So Lockhart is dispatched to the spa resort in the Swiss Alps where he the CEO had gone but who hasn’t been heard from since. The spa is reported to be the sort that provides very specific cures for those who can afford to take this kind of approach and visit this sort of location.
When Lockhart arrives at the mysterious spa, though, he finds things aren’t exactly as simple as he’d been lead to believe. Not only is retrieving the elusive executive harder than he anticipated, but so is simply leaving. On his way out he’s involved in a major accident that sends him back to the clinic where he’s subjected to the “cure” that’s touted there. What he finds is that the “cure” may be anything but and it becomes a struggle to get out before he loses his mind and possibly his life.
The first poster – which also sported a “motion” version – only hints at the surreal nature of the story with its visual of woman floating, suspended in an blue apothecary bottle. The rest is all white space, hinting at isolation or other problems to come.
That sense of danger and something being not quite right is amped up on the second poster. This one shows a young woman (presumably the same one from above) looking out over the edge of an old-fashioned bathtub that’s filled with snakes or eels or some sort of slimy, wriggling creature. She doesn’t look panicked, though, just as if she’s resigned to her fate. It’s pretty creepy.
The teaser trailer begins with Lockhart in some sort of sensory-deprivation tank, about to be sealed in. The rest of the running time is remarkably non-linear, bouncing between establishing shots showing how remote the clinic is and some of the mind-bending and stomach-churning treatments being administered there. The pounding music builds to a crescendo as more insanity is uncovered with every jump-cut.
It’s not about establishing any sort of story, though we get the basic outlines that Lockhart is our eyes into this clinic as someone who is trying to uncover the mysteries it holds. The use of a cover of The Ramones’ “I Want To Be Sedated” is a nice touch, lending an air of mystery to the footage. Again, there’s not much here in terms of laying out the plot, it’s just about creating a feel for the audience to latch on to.
The first official trailer starts out with narration about how there’s a sickness in humanity. We see that’s coming from the letter someone has written and a young executive is dispatched to investigate the state of mind of the sender. He’s a patient at a “wellness center” that has a lot of mystery surrounding it. When Lockhart tries to leave he falls victim to an accident that keeps him at the facility, where he continues to uncover one shady activity after another, all centered around the “cure” that’s promised but never really delivered. The intensity continues to ramp up throughout until it all comes to a crashing halt.
It certainly does sell the movie as a creepy one. It’s all about setting up the mystery and promising that the answers will be slowly unveiled as Lockhart tries to get to the bottom of things. There’s plenty of story here that shows just how deep the conspiracy at the facility runs but overall it’s about showing off the dark tone of the story that features all kinds of torture-level therapies that are part of the unconventional cure being offered.
Online and Social
The official website extends the unusual, disconcerting visuals from the trailer. When it loads there’s an image of a woman spinning in the water with the copy “There is a cure” overlaid.
At the bottom of the page there’s a prompt to “Begin treatment” by selecting Water, Air or Earth. Click one of them and a calming narration begins that encourages you to meditate in a way that’s specific to that element.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot was run around the turn of the new year and was themed thusly, positioning the cure of the movie as just the kind of thing to get the new year off on the right foot. It’s plenty creepy but doesn’t go too far into the story, likely just the result of the short run time.
Further TV spots, including one that aired during the Super Bowl, kept amping up the creepiness while laying out the bare outlines of the story. Social ads were run that used the trailer and TV spots to build awareness and interest and drive ticket sales.
Media and Publicity
There doesn’t appear to have been a huge press push for the movie. DeHaan and Verbinski did the rounds of interviews where they talked about the scariness of the movie, the way they tried to break some boundaries in the horror genre and so on but that’s about it. Most of the press coverage seems to have come from the release of new marketing materials like trailers, key art and so on.
The biggest pop came right toward the end, with the revelation that Fox had created a host of “fake news” sites that had outrageous headlines, many of which were tied to the universe of the movie.
What strikes me about the campaign is that there’s precious little attention paid to the story itself. There’s no synopsis on the website, there’s no copy or other hints on the posters and even the full trailer doesn’t go too in-depth on what exactly is going on. Instead the focus is on the visuals and the tone of the movie, the whole thing tinged with that soft, watery green that makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable and uneasy. The focus is clearly on the eels that are part of the cure and other aspects to make the audience feel curious and a bit queasy, not on laying out the story completely.
And there really is a consistent brand visual style for the campaign, with that dirty green color infusing everything as well as the overall gothic style of the visuals, copy fonts and more. It all combines to create a marketing effort that at times plays like a psychological drama and at others like some sort of body horror thriller. There’s an emphasis on Verbinski and his personal directorial brand, which counts on audiences knowing his body of work as a whole, specifically the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but that’s a big bet.