“I’ve been certifiably rotten my entire life. I mean, that’s like a parental advisory sticker on your record, right?” This is director Gore Verbinski discussing his movies’ propensity to, let’s say, not be totally initially appreciated. He’s exaggerating a little bit: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was well-received by critics and was nominated for five Academy Awards. And Verbinski’s Rango won an Oscar for Best Animated Film. And then there’s the fact that Verbinski is in the top 10 for highest-grossing directors of all time. But, yes, some of Verbinski’s films do have a way of being appreciated well after their initial theatrical run. Case in point: it only took a year for Verbinki’s strange The Lone Ranger to be reevaluated.
Verbinski’s latest is A Cure for Wellness (which has – surprise! – divided critics), the story of a cocky business executive (Dane DeHaan, who at 31 is finally getting to play his own age) who is sent to a “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps to search for his company’s CEO – a wellness center that specializes in mysterious water quickly becomes more and more ominous. This is a very bizarre movie. Eels are involved. In other words: This is a Gore Verbinksi movie. (Honestly, Verbinski may have the largest Venn diagram overlap between “box office success” and “weird movie” of any director working today.)
I met Verbinsky in a large hotel conference room, even though we were the only two people in the room. Verbinski isn’t someone who comes off like one of the most successful directors of all time. I promise he could walk out the door, up the stairs, and onto the streets of SoHo and no one would recognize him. I get the sense he likes it that way. Many times during this interview I had to add accolades to his overly modest answers. I think there’s part of Verbinski who doesn’t believe he’s had a hit. And I think a part of him likes thinking that way – in that he’d rather be known for making weird movies than being know as the director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
I wasn’t expecting to see RoboCop show up in this movie, even in toy form.
Yeah. Well, you know, I’m a fan. But it was more of, what’s the quickest way to telegraph we’re going back to 1987? And it seemed like as soon as I see a RoboCop doll, I know what period it is.
But that made that remake. Kids might be like, “Oh, this is three years ago.”
That’s true. But kids shouldn’t come to this movie. I wanted the kid to be playing with a toy and I didn’t want it to be a Transformer.
Did you actually find a real RoboCop toy?
I would like to own that.
It was eBay. It was an old one. It was a key ingredient.
In the opening scene a man has a very frightening heart attack. The score adds to it…
Yeah, we were trying to get this feeling the movie has a real sort of macabre, Gothic narrative. It’s very Lovecraftian. Even though we’re dealing with modern man and this sort of analysis of the study – sort of looking down and kind of offering a diagnosis of modern man – everything’s sort of orchestrated to get him out of the way, send up the new meat. The perfume bottle is opened and the smoky hand has reached across the Atlantic and it’s sort of summoning this guy to this place.
It’s some of the most ominous “drinking of water” I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Well, there’s something so corruptible about something as benign and tranquil as a wellness center and a health spa – and the ideas of purification and water and what’s in the water. And if there’s something in the water, then it’s something inside you. I think those are very specific nightmares.
Dane DeHaan is finally playing a character his own age.
Well, Justin Haythe, the writer, and I had sort of intentionally written Lockhart’s character as a bit of an asshole. I mean, he has to be vulnerable to this diagnosis, which is sort of a form of absolution, right? And so, reverse engineering from there, we wanted somebody who was really going to have this sickness in spades, and kind of would do whatever it takes to get ahead. You know, he’s going to lie and cheat and deceive and do whatever. He can be unlikable, but you can’t stop watching him.
I stopped watching for a little bit during the tooth scene. I had to look away. I couldn’t do it.