Returning back to the horror genre since 2002’s THE RING, Verbinski sat down with Jay Kay during the New York City Press Day to talk about Asian horror influence and impact. The idea of immersive horror. The importance of sound, why we go to the theater and the many layers of eels for Tom Holland’s Terror Time.
His latest film A CURE FOR WELLNESS, returns talented filmmaker Gore Verbinski to a lush visual style, mysterious locations, disturbing treatments and surreal storytelling that immerses you and makes question what is true wellness and happiness?
Terror Time: Thank you, Gore, for taking the time and bringing a film like A CURE FOR WELLNESS to the screen. A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a fascinating film with the idea of how you take very arcane medical practices and put them into a modern time and situation with the wealthy. Not sure it would work any other way except if it were the wealthy as you state in the film, “The wealthy have wealthy problems” and they are looking for that thing that evades them. That thing that they cannot earn or acquire and that is where it plays on very well with it. Can you talk to me about bringing these arcane medical practices onto a modern stage?
Gore Verbinski: Yeah, we set out to tell what I would say is a contemporary gothic. It definitely got macabre overtones but is also diagnosing modern man. There is this ancient place, this castle up on the hill that has been able to watch sort of mankind go through stages of the industrial revolution. Watch out obsession with personal computers and our obsessions with our devices. It’s sort of offering a diagnosis. The film is very much about two worlds and I think at the end of this movie Hannah and Lockhart don’t belong to either. There’s that sort of intentional progression as he makes his way to this place, he’s sort of out of bounds as his computer does not work, his cell stops work as well as his watch stops also. He’s slipping into kind of a dream logic and leaving the waking state.
TT: With THE RING, just like A CURE FOR WELLNESS, you deal with themes and actions that consume us whether it’s media, society, that need to know or even, in this case, to feel healthy. Can you talk about those themes and did you bring them from a film like THE RING into A CURE FOR WELLNESS?
GV: Well I think in this genre, it’s important to tap into some kind of contemporary fear particularly if you are dealing with things like a castle in the Alps. You could be in a situation where the currant closes and that was then but we want to infect the audience, have something that lingers. I think to access some sort of touch point or contemporary issue, I think THE RING came out right after 9/11 and I think there was sort of this unspoken sense transferable nature of hate that a lot of us felt, “What did we do to deserve this?” That movie is very much about survival. “Someone did something to you, you do something for someone else.” That is that kind of chain letter aspect of it.
In A CURE FOR WELLNESS, what is it about us as a society we live in this increasingly an irrational world? I think we are driving the car into the wall and we can’t turn the wheel. We know history. We know facts yet we are also we are vulnerable to the pharmaceutical industry or the kale smoothie.
TT: Big business…
GV: Exactly. What makes us susceptible to that? Deep down, we must know we’re not well.
TT: What were the influences surrounding the eels within the psyche and different levels of medical practices? Any Asian influences also?
GV: Not so much. I think the case of the eels have the Freudian implications with Hannah flowering and her awakening and with Lockhart sort of being put to sleep. We are hard-wired in our DNA to react things that slither. We are dealing with a movie that says, “Purify, drink lots of water.” Then if there’s something in the water, there’s something inside us. So, that was really more of the sharing specific and personal nightmares.
As for Asian influences, it was really more the dream logic of things and certain Asian writers who are able to kind of hold a narrative together without the obligations of this western linear style and the burden of exposition. We don’t quite understand how everything connects but we feel like it’s right.
TT: That’s how you feel a lot coming out of a movie like that with the running time especially with the two and a half hours is really build of all those pieces coming together. As it had been listed in the notes, immersive. It’s immersive for the audience. I think one of the biggest aspects Gore is the sound. The sound is very immersive. Can you talk about the sound design? The craftsmanship, process as well as the difficulty if there was any in getting it just right to affect audience causing this immersive experience for A CURE FOR WELLNESS.
GV: Sure. We talk about the sort of sickness in everything. We try to put it if you imagine a sort of mortar holding all the scenes together. So, we would record like wheezing breath’s pitch then down and stretch them and they would become room tones or very subtle things mixed into the steam but also, I’m a fan of the old mono film noir where the wingtip shoes on the concrete which are a little too loud, mojo and outside of the mix. Dane’s crutch became very essential, that squeaky crutch. I remember finding the one that made the sound. Then putting a piece of tape on it and recording it followed by sending it to the ADR stage. Then staying after the shoot, recording it and saying, “I really need this thing to be in front, out of the mix and kind of intentionally irritating.
TT: Let me close it out with this. Was this the right time in your career to create a film like this? Why bring A CURE FOR WELLNESS out now and how did you get the green light to make this which is very different from many of the projects in your career?
GV: Well it’s a no ask to get people to go to the movie theater, pay too much for popcorn and get in their car to drive.
TT: (Laughs) Yes, it is.
GV: I think that is why you see more of this inventing of that experience or on the other side you have something immediately reducible. However, we are not based on a theme park ride or we are not based on something you are aware of like a comic book or a toy or video game. I’m sort of asking you to go to the movie theater the way used to where you didn’t know anything about what you are going to see. Sure, yeah, all the data says don’t do this but that makes it all the more exciting.
TT: That passion and thrill definitely make the difference. Thank you so much, Gore.
GV: Thank you.
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