It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since it's directed by Gore Verbinski, who made the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as Rango and The Lone Ranger. And the screenplay by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) starts well, stirring in some resonant themes amid the growing, gnawing nastiness. Unfortunately, over the film's overlong running time, it just gets sillier and simpler.
The story centres on Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a rising star workaholic New York broker who's been caught in some dodgy dealings. To redeem himself, he is sent to collect the company's boss (Harry Groener) from a Swiss sanatorium, where he seems to have gone native. Or something. But when Lockhart arrives at the picturesque Alpine castle, things quickly begin to spiral out of control. He's injured in a car crash, forcing him to become a patient at the spa alongside the rather too-cheerful elderly residents, who are undergoing some sort of odd treatment. As Lockhart digs deeper, he runs afoul of the director, Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs), especially when he befriends the doctor's star patient, the oddly naive Hannah (Mia Goth). And as things get freakier, Lockhart begins to worry that he'll never get out of here.
Verbinski develops a darkly gothic atmosphere from the first frames of the film, and things get increasingly offbeat from there. Some elements are blackly comical, but the overall tone is grotesque, with a special emphasis on slimy eels, which appear alarmingly everywhere Lockhart looks. Meanwhile, Haythe stirs in a convoluted mythology about the mad baron who lived in the castle 200 years earlier. When combined with underlying themes about the stresses of modern-day life and the relative morality of Wall Street bankers, this is all rather intriguing. Unfortunately, these clever textures slip away quickly, leaving little more than a series of repetitive set pieces designed to give the audience the jitters as they remind us of other movies.
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Manna From Heaven is the story of a Buffalo family who one day discover $20,000 "raining from heaven," wisely decide to split it up, and then go on their merry ways. A decade or so later, every last one of them has grown up to be a loser, having squandered his or her (mostly her) share of the loot. The lone exception is Theresa (Ursula Burton... well of course the good one is going to be played by a Burton sister!) who has become an ash-on-the-forehead nun. In fact, Theresa becomes convinced that the 20 grand of so long ago was not a gift but a loan, and that they must now "pay it back."
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'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.