While IMDb has it categorized as a mystery thriller, for the sake of argument, let’s deem Gore Verbinski’s latest, A Cure for Wellness, a horror film. I mean, watch that trailer and tell me there isn’t some serious genre stuff in there.
The ominous braaam, the sinister boardroom, the horrific imagery, the cloaked cult members, embryonic deformity, Jason Isaac’s German accent, mad scientists’ labs: it’s all very intriguing stuff… then I saw the running time.
A Cure for Wellness is 2h 26m long*.
UK critic Mark Kermode uses 2001: A Space Odyssey as a cinematic yardstick, arguing that if a film can chart the entire history of the human race in 2h 24m (in its theatrical release) then there should be little excuse for ever going over that mark.
It’s a rule horror cinema largely abides by. In fact, how many really long horror films are there?
I’m always struck by the length of the films in the Scream franchise, but even they top out at just 2h (Scream 2). And what of Stephen King, whose genre source material is renowned for its length? Discounting the TV miniseries (“It” and “The Stand” etc.), he’s responsible for one of the longest well-known horror films, in the form of the 2h 26m The Shining (original cut). Dreamcatcher (2h 14m) and The Mist (2h 6m) also aren’t short, but the vast majority of King adaptations still come in under two hours. Anthologies can be long – ABCs of Death (2h 9m), Three… Extremes (2h 5m), Creepshow (2h) and Chillerama (2h) etc. – but the segmented pacing works entirely differently, so they don’t really apply here.
Like The Shining, there are a select few horror “epics”. The Conjuring 2 springs to mind at 2h 14m, a whole 22 minutes longer than its already pretty lengthy predecessor (1h 52m). Looking back, you also have things like Romero’s 2h 7m Dawn of the Dead as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (2h 8m), Interview with the Vampire (2h 3m), and the genre blurring, but undeniably horrific, Se7en (2h 7m). There are also some Asian offerings that seem determined to play by their own rules: just this last year, The Wailing came in at a butt-numbing 2h 36m.
However, the aforementioned examples are definitely outliers. Most horror films are all wrapped up by the 100-minute mark, if not a sharp 90. And for good reason: atmosphere can only be sustained for so long, before it dissipates or just straight up gets boring. War movies might need the extra running time for scale and melodramas can ape out endless emotion but, when it comes to horror, there is a serious case for short and sweet, in my book.
Bringing this back to A Cure for Wellness, it’s hard not to be reminded of Shutter Island, to which this film is clearly indebted. And, the comparisons extend beyond the set-up and the iconography on display in the trailer: Scorsese’s film is 2h 18m.
That’s what has me worried. I like Scorsese, and the visual panache is there as always, but Shutter Island does feel really long. The dense, twisty plotting doesn’t help, but there’s just not enough of an emotional bond to justify the lengthy journey. Unlike something like The Conjuring 2, which features some genuinely moving character beats (the Elvis scene, to name just one).
Although he may not be quite on Scorsese’s level, Verbinski’s certainly enough of a visual stylist to make A Cure for Wellness an aesthetic treat and I do rate his The Ring remake (even if that too is a tad on the long side), but can he deliver the emotional involvement to justify that meaty running time?
I guess we’ll soon find out!
What do you think of long horror films? Is 90 minutes the dream, or are you open to two-hour-plus epics? Let me know in the comments.
*Throughout this article, I use the IMDb-listed running times for consistency because, as you may know, running times vary around the world according to broadcast and DVD color encoding.