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Movie Review

Sometimes, a man has just had enough.

That seems to be the case with Roland Pembroke. The CEO of a large New York investment firm has gone to a spa in the Swiss Alps. And, in cryptic note he's sent back to the company's executive team, he's informed them that he's not coming back.

Ever.

"We are the only species capable of self-reflection," Pembroke writes. "We wrap ourselves in the illusion of material success. … There is a sickness inside us rising, like the bile that leaves that bitter taste at the back of our throats. It's there in every one of you seated around the table. Only when we know what ails us can we hope to find cure."

Pembroke's associates think he's lost his mind. But he'll need to find it, they suggest, because his firm is under investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission. So they send an ambitious young ladder climber named Mr. Lockhart to bring him back.

Lockhart arrives at the spa, having been shuttled up a winding road to the isolated mountain-top wellness center—one with creepy carved eels on the gates—determined to extricate Pembroke. Alas, facility director Henrich Volmer tells him with a chilly smile, visiting hours are over for the day. He'll have to come back tomorrow.

But Lockhart's driver hits a deer on the way back down to town. When the young businessman awakens, he finds himself in Volmer's care … with a full-length cast on his leg.

It seems he won't be going anywhere for a while, either with Pembroke or without him. No worries, Volmer assures the anxious young man. All has been taken care of, and Lockhart's associates have been informed of the indefinite delay.

But in long, odd days that follow, Lockhart realizes he's got bigger issues than just finding Pembroke. Something about the spa is just … not right.

Oh, all the aging, moneyed clientele there seem to be having a smashing time, to be sure, what with playing croquet, swimming and steaming and imbibing the miraculous water the spa is famous for. To a person, they'd all say that disconnecting from the rigors of modern life is the best thing they've ever done. In fact, none of them want to leave. Nor can they remember anyone actually doing so.

Ever.

Still, a wealthy American named Victoria Watkins has quietly begun to puzzle out the dark history of the spa. Something about a baron having an incestuous relationship with his sister, who was subsequently burned at the stake some 200 years before. Understandably, it's not the kind of history anyone talks much about (though Lockhart's driver gives him a slightly different version of that story, too).

Then there's mysterious young Hannah, who barely seems a teenager—the only other young person (besides the impossibly perfect-looking young nursing staff) in the whole place. Hannah, it seems, has something of a special relationship with the director, who treats her practically like a … daughter.

Finally, there's a seriously creepy bald guy wheeling what look like covered corpses on a gurney down into the spa's catacombs every night.

By now, Pembroke is the least of Lockhart's worries. He simply wants out. But he can't quite quell his curiosity regarding what's really going on at the spa … and what's really in the water that everyone's drinking.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

Positive Elements

The film's opening premise—that pursuing materialism and money hollows us out as human beings—is the most interesting and positive thing in the whole movie.

Lockhart begins this story as a deeply damaged, self-absorbed individual. Over the course of the film, we learn that his hardhearted cynicism is largely the result of having witnessed his father's suicide when he was just a boy. Eventually, he helps rescue Hannah from the clutches of the truly unthinkable evils he uncovers.

Lockhart's driver tells him, "A son learns what it is to be a man from his father." It's another isolated moment of insight in a film doesn't offer much of either quality. Lockhart eventually finds Pembroke, and the older man admits, "We've all done terrible things, so many terrible things." Guilt is obviously one of the issues he's trying to address.

Spiritual Content

A boy on a train outlines a devil (with horns) in fog on a window. Someone says of a deceased person, "God rest his soul." Groups of elderly patients practice Tai Chi.

There's passing reference to a church that burned down, and we see the remnants of what appears to be the building's steeple. We hear that a priest was hung (and see artwork depicting the minister's death).

A marriage ceremony has a cult-like feel to it as participants watch and dance in white robes.

Sexual Content

A scene with two spa staff, a man and a woman, includes breast nudity and visually alludes to masturbation.

A lengthy, graphic and disturbing attempted rape scene involves Volmer attempting to rape Hannah. She's bound to a bed. Multiple camera shots involve breast nudity. It's clearly implied that Volmer violates Hannah in ways that the camera doesn't explicitly show. To make matters much worse, we learn that Hannah is, in fact, Volmer's daughter (and the daughter of his incestuous union with his sister two centuries before).

Lockhart has a vision of Hannah nude in a bathtub, covered in eels. We see the outside of her bare hip and shoulders.

Throughout the film, we repeatedly see elderly men and women completely naked—both from the rear and the front—in the spa's steam rooms. Nearly nude people are shown comatose in large tanks of water. We see a man grab his crotch as an oddly threatening gesture. We hear crude verbal references to oral and anal sex. Someone dances suggestively, attracting leering males' attention. Lockhart obviously lusts after a pretty nurse.

Violent Content

Remember I mentioned eels above? Yeah, about those eels …

It turns out that these special eels excrete a substance that allows those who imbibe it to live in perpetuity. Volmer is the original baron, and he and Hannah have been alive for 200 years (though she's somehow just now hitting puberty). The problem is, well, those yucky eels need food. As in, human food. The secret Lockhart eventually discovers is that the corpses of those who die at the spa—which is everyone, eventually—are fed to the eels (a ghastly process we see a couple of times).

But we're not done with the eels yet. Not by a long shot. Some of the "therapies" at the spa involve a hose that goes into someone's mouth that allows many of the slimy critters to flow freely into the stomachs of those undergoing the "treatment." It's never really explained why this happens, but we see the unsettling and awful procedure as it's inflicted upon terrified, screaming Lockhart. We don't know what happens after people get filled up with eels on the inside, but one can assume it's not good, really. Lockhart also gets submerged in a sensory deprivation tank of water. He's got oxygen initially, but when the eels predictably show up, he freaks out and loses his air tether, nearly drowning in the process.

Lockhart talks with a veterinarian in a small town outside the spa. The man has blood on his hands; he's euthanizing a traumatized, restrained cow. He cuts the cow's stomach open, and lots of eels gush out along with its viscera.

As details of the story behind the spa come to light, the narrative gets darker, creepier and more violent. We learn that the baron (now known as Volmer) repeatedly impregnated his sister, but most of those babies were deformed. We see the hideously deformed infants in glass containers full of, presumably, some perseverative agent. We also hear that villagers tore the baby whom we know now as Hannah from her mother's womb as the woman was being burned at the stake.

Volmer and Hannah apparently have aged little in 200 years. Hannah is just now reaching puberty (which happens when she's in a pool, surrounded by eels swimming through blood she unexpectedly emits in her first period). That said, Volmer occasionally has to replace his face, it seems. We see the skin of other people's faces on racks, and Volmer eventually has his current visage torn off, leaving a bloody, macabre monster.

Lockhart and Volmer have a massive fistfight as a house burns around them (and as Hannah is still tied up, mostly unclothed, to a bed).

A deer collides with Lockhart and his driver's car. One of the animal's antlers gets wedged in the windshield. The car flips violently—with Lockhart careening about inside in slow motion. We also see the wounded deer try, but fail, to stand up as it flops around on the asphalt with broken legs. Lockhart awakens from the accident to find that he, too, has a broken leg, and he wears a cast for much of the rest of the film. Near the end, Lockhart breaks a glass and uses it to cut the cast off (slicing his hand badly in the process).

A man clutches his chest dramatically, then falls (knocking over a water dispenser) as he dies from a heart attack. We see a casket pushed into a crematorium. Teeth are forcibly removed without anesthesia, including one that's horrifically drilled out. We see a flashback of Lockhart's father committing suicide by jumping off a bridge. There's a fistfight at a bar. Someone has a bloody nose. Another person gets a shovel blade brutally buried in his head.

Crude or Profane Language

About 10 f-words. Five s-words. Jesus' name is misused three times. "H---" and "a--" are misused two or three times each. We hear one use each of "t-ts," "p---y" and "d--k."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Some characters smoke cigarettes, as well as drink wine and beer. During an attempted escape, Lockhart and Hannah have beers at a bar; it's clear she's never had an alcoholic beverage.

Other Negative Elements

Hannah glimpses used menstrual pads in a women's bathroom. Eels turn up in a toilet.

Conclusion

Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Ring) does an admittedly skillful job establishing an ever-more creepy vibe here. It's clear—to Lockhart, to us—that something is very, very wrong at this swanky Swiss spa full of smiling, zombielike (and frequently naked) elderly people sitting in spas, playing croquet, doing Tai Chi and … drinking the water.

Then things go truly bonkers.

Whatever Lockhart might have thought was going on, the reality is much worse. Incest. Rape. Mass murder. And eels. Lots and lots of eels doing really bad things to people both dead and alive.

What begins as a taut, suspenseful thriller descends into a horror story that's as lurid as it is absurd, as gratuitous as it is ludicrous. It's a slow-motion train wreck of a movie one might be tempted to laugh off were it not so graphically, unrelentingly morbid.

There's no cure for anything to be found here.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Dane DeHaan as Mr. Lockhart; Jason Isaacs as Director Henrich Volmer; Mia Goth as Hannah; Celia Imrie as Mrs. Victoria Watkins; Adrian Schiller as Deputy Director; Lisa Banes as Hollis; Carl Lumbly as Mr. Wilson; Ivo Nandi as Enrico; Johannes Krisch as the Caretaker;

Director

Gore Verbinski ( )

Distributor

20th Century Fox

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 17, 2017

On Video

June 6, 2017

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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