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The Director’s Profile: George A. Romero  

Narshall on Cinema George Romero (Arts Features)

Most viewers will undoubtedly associate the by-now household name of George A. Romero with his initial run of spectacularly gruesome, though at their very core satirical, tales of the undead: “Night of the Living Dead,” the quintessential “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead” to cap off the truly exceptional trilogy.

However, the Pittsburgh native, born Feb. 4, 1940, more than earned his keep during his earlier years with a stream of underappreciated gems that effectively showcased a gifted auteur firing from every conceivable creative angle.

More than just a writer/director, Romero also edited every one of his films from his acclaimed 1968 debut, “Night of the Living Dead,” to “Creepshow” in 1982, his entertaining collaboration with Stephen King. Moving on from that horror film, which was considered to be way ahead of its time, he made the sex comedy “There’s Always Vanilla” in 1971. The following year, he returned to the genre that gave him his distinctive voice with “Season of the Witch,” an utterly fascinating critique of the patriarchy that mixes hallucinatory terror with talky melodrama.

1973 brought “The Crazies,” and the urban vampire/addiction parable “Martin” followed five years later. The former film is perhaps the purest expression of the director’s abilities on the cutting-room floor to date, and it will likely stay that way; in attempting to communicate a small town’s hysteria in light of an outbreak, Romero challenges himself to turn uncalculated chaos into an unforgettable abstraction — and succeeds with flying colors.

This is reflective of the filmmaker’s early career at large: films that are undeniably rough around the edges but that nonetheless maintain a uniquely manic ambiance to complement their socially conscious themes. Consider it anger, fear, and contempt meticulously articulated for the atomic age. Either way, the results speak for themselves.

Film Review:  ‘A Cure For Wellness’

Cure For Wellness 1 (Arts Features)Cure For Wellness 2 (Arts Features)

 

Though it’s been a decade and a half since he remade the quintessential J-horror gem “Ringu” as “The Ring,” Gore Verbinski has never strayed too far from the path of hallucinatory dread in his subsequent career — whether he’s entertaining the misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow or those of a computer-generated chameleon by the name of Rango.

Yet, for all the macabre flourishes those films do indeed possess, one might desire a return to darker waters for the director, the sort which seem at first to be uncharted and positively delectable. The answer to this is, alas, “A Cure for Wellness,” which is the sort of film that seems to wear its exquisitely dressed grime as if it were a badge of honor.

Following the sudden death of a colleague, we are thrust headfirst into the life and times of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young executive for one of New York City’s most successful financial firms. Lockhart is given the task of retrieving the company’s CEO from a mysterious wellness center located somewhere in the Swiss Alps, where the treatment provided to its many patients (most of whom are elderly) simply seems too good to be true.

Shortly after arriving, he’s ready to get out of there, but a fatal car crash on the way back down the mountain adds a couple days, months, or maybe even years to Lockhart’s stay.

Verbinski is no stranger to spectacle; in fact, he revels in it. But the prospect of a major Hollywood player like him honing his craft for something more appropriately brooding and artful is an enticing one. Bojan Bazelli’s crisp yet sleazy cinematography speaks for itself, delivering the kind of transgressive art-horror aesthetic that is so sorely lacking in mainstream cinema today. Truth be told, he conjures more than a few genuinely horrifying images.

However, it’s Verbinski’s indulgences that also prove to be his greatest downfall. In this case, it’s containing his mystery, keeping it as tight as possible. Lockhart is hardly the most immediately sympathetic fellow — which is quite alright, but we’re meant to see the events through not only his subdued vision but occasionally that of a younger patient (Mia Goth), whose own problems are more deep-seated than the film cares to acknowledge. This is a film that is more interested in the thrill of the kill than it is in more profound emotional engagement, but in the absence of the latter it can feel detrimentally one note.

Most disappointing of all is that Verbinski and company had the chance, and the resources, to make something more genuinely audacious than this, and seem to be constantly touting that they have.

It’s yet another film that feels so very into the notion of allowing differences to define who we are rather than give into certain accepted (but no less toxic) social constructs.

But at nearly two and a half hours, and with all its ham-fisted exposition and lazy gaps in logic, it’s no more distinctive than the average, overblown multimillion-dollar affair: a nasty, decidedly cynical fashion statement masquerading as high-brow psychological horror. It could have surely benefited from a little more humanism to counter its contempt. As much as the desire is there to see more transgressive subject matter explored on a generous budget, this tedium simply isn’t the antidote to that particular drought.

Ryan Marshall is a Communications & New Media major focusing on cinematic journalism. You can also see his writing at podcastingthemsoftly.com

 

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